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While you were busy living your life, these important podcasts were posted. In case you missed them, now’s the perfect opportunity to get to know these fabulous people!

nancypoloFive Questions with Nancy Polo In which Nancy discusses the isolation of making art; the diverse occupations of pastamaking, art and graphic design, and running a business; her newfound political activism; and the influence of her Italian heritage on her daily life.

Five Questions with Niraj Ray In which Niraj discusses his journey from growing up in New York to becoming an urban farmer in Washington, DC, the connectionniraj between his new farming techniques and his family’s farming history in India, why strawberries grown in a greenhouse have more flavor, how working on the roof of the Environmental Protection Agency changed his life, and more. Learn more about Niraj’s work at

Five Questions with Genevieve Hoffman In which Genevieve discusses the beautiful cold genevieveand quiet of snowshoeing, having an adundance of what she needs, raising chickens with her children, her unlikely decision to move cross country with someone she didn’t actually know very well, and working as a women’s health nurse or, in another universe, a historical landscaper.

This morning I was told we should look in the mirror and see the best self we can be.

In the middle of the night when I wake up to pee and I look in the mirror while I’m washing my hands

I am pretty sure Benicio del Toro smirks back at me.

In the morning when we’ve all overslept

which is so frequently that getting up on time feels miraculous

and I put on a baseball hat because I don’t have time to shower before I drive Zoe to school

I look in the mirror and see

Michael Moore looking disheveled but not too disheveled to ask pointed questions.

When we’ve been walking through the rain on the way to dinner downtown. I duck into the bathroom in the restaurant and see

Richard Simmons in my hair, without the tank top.

When the air is dry or I’ve combed out my wet hair after a late night soccer game, I wake up to Barry Gibb stayin’ alive in my mirror.

Why this odd assortment of male celebrities inhabits my crusty-eyed, rumpled reflections, I do not know.

Is my best self hidden among them? Best if I cultivate my authentic self away from mirrors, looking instead to another face.

I had the privilege of serving as worship associate at church this morning for our Christmas Eve services. These are the words I used to open the service.

Call to Worship 

We come to this place filled with anticipation.

Some of us await a miraculous birth and envision redemption.

Some of us hold out hope for an everyday miracle.

We come to this place with lingering sorrows, or fresh, sharp grief.

We long for what once was or something we never had.

We come with excitement, joy, and gratitude

for those we love gathered around us.

We come together this morning to hear a familiar story told by new voices.

We come to sing old songs that reawaken our hearts.

We come listening for peace, seeking comfort, in need of love.

Let us take this time to practice the peace, provide the comfort,

share the love with our sisters and brothers.


Chalice Lighting


May the flame of our chalice be a brilliant reminder of the divine spark

Within each of us

The spark that we see in each other’s eyes.

The spark that grows bigger when we share a kindness.

The spark that glows brighter when we laugh together.

The spark that holds steady when we cry together.

On this Christmas Eve morning,

may the flame of our chalice remind us of the star that

shepherds and magi followed so long ago.

May this flame serve as our star today.

The theme at church for November is abundance. Yesterday i was worship associate and wrote this for the call to worship.


What we have here is more than enough

Enough oxygen to breathe in and carbon dioxide to breathe out

Enough voices to form a chorus

Enough hands to hold

Although sometimes we are scared to reach for them

What we have here is more than enough

Enough leaves of crimson and saffron decorating the asphalt

Enough puddles to splash in

Enough bird songs to listen to

Although we don’t always notice them

What we have here is more than enough

Enough second chances to offer and receive

Enough stories to tell and listen to

Enough love to go around


At 3 in the morning (or is it 2? Or 4?) I am

Acutely aware of the superiority of my skills soothing babies (at least mine) or toddlers or even big kids who’ve had bad dreams. Crying because of a sudden nocturnal eruption of an ear infection (a few drops of warm olive oil) or the raw coughing of croup (steamy bathroom or stepping outside) or wetting the bed (simply new sheets or an unexpected sleepover). Years ago we thanked God for all-night reruns (the strange beauty of Gullah Gullah Island marathons). Now there is Netflix for any brand of distraction on demand. Grape-flavored Tylenol or the nebulizer or just a long, long (long) snuggle. “You Are My Sunshine” and “Peace Like a River,” “Hush Little Baby” and “Amazing Grace” on repeat.

But I have no earthly idea what to do when the dog noses her way past our closed bedroom door. She licks my fingers to ensure I’m awake and then she leads me downstairs. Going out back, sure, no problem.

But it’s never enough. We’ve been told to limit her intake at night so we don’t wake up to puddles on the floor. But then she whines. And she barks. And she goes downstairs. And back up. And whines. And barks. In and out. And I guiltily dispense treats because I. Am. So. Tired. I think longingly of nursing because it was so comparatively simple. And it usually worked. And we could all go back to sleep.

I cannot rock this dog to sleep. Or quiet her with a cartoon. Sometimes she does insist that I put her to bed, scratching her back or belly next to me on the futon until she’s relaxed. Sometimes I fall asleep next to her.

But at 3am (because time passes quickly) she is an enigma. This gentle, soulful dog who never barks when the sun is up.

mikeIn which Michael discusses his enterprise restoring and renting vintage Airstream trailers (Nomad Mobile Motor Lodge), his dream to be a backup singer for Emmylou Harris, the fundamental energy that dogs give him, and wishing to be independently wealthy so he can use his magic litter wand.

Listen to the podcast here.

3:09am 4-year-old comes into my bedroom, climbs over me, says “covers, please,” and squeezes himself as close to me as possible.

3:10am Not satisfied with level of closeness, 4-year-old says “Hug.” It is a statement, not a question. A directive. I reposition so he’s nestled into my armpit and shoulder region, in such a way that my shoulder will certainly be sore in the morning.

3:11am For a moment I foolishly think we can all fall back asleep.

3:12am 4-year-old starts subtly writhing around in a manner which experience tells us means he has to pee. I know now that he is warm and snuggly from my body heat and the quilts and does not wish to subject himself to the cruel 72-degree air temperature in our home. Nevertheless, I say “bathroom break!”

3:13am To set a good example, I get up and use the bathroom in our bedroom while encouraging him to do the same in the hall bathroom, knowing it will be less bright in the hall bathroom but he can see well enough to pee from the motion detecting nightlights in the fall. He says “I’ll just go after you.”

3:15am I return to my bed and he’s not only fast asleep again but taking up the entirety of the space I recently occupied, despite the fact that he’s 25 inches shorter and significantly narrower than me.

3:16am I go into my office, which is really now the dog’s room. She has marked it so well that calling the carpet cleaner is at the top of my list of things to do. We are working with a dog trainer. I think maybe I can carve out a space to sleep on the dog’s futon.

3:17 I discover that the dog is inexplicably wide awake and making sounds with her mouth like she just ate, even though no food is available to her at this hour. I wonder what food might have been inadvertently made available to her but I am too tired to look around. Because she is awake, the dog wants to be pet and scratched and spend some quality time licking my hand.

3:20am Instead of lulling the dog back to sleep, my attentions have stimulated her and she’s even more awake. I am falling asleep but it turns out I can’t really relax when she is licking my arm.

3:21am I decide to try my luck sleeping downstairs. I move a large pile of toys off the ottoman onto the table already covered with toys and stack them precariously. I move the stool over in front of the big comfy chair where I often slept when I was pregnant because it was the only place I could get comfortable. But the dog has detected my attempts to go back to sleep and has come downstairs.

3:22am The dog goes to the back door as if she needs to pee so I open it for her. Apparently I am standing too close to the door because she refuses to go out. I sit down in the big chair. She goes out.

3:24am I get up to close the door when she comes back in.

3:25am The dog walks over to the dining room table and barks. This is the place she always stands to bark and we don’t know why. She rarely barks anywhere else. There is no food on the table. There is food in the kitchen but she does not bark in the kitchen. Ever. Because I cannot deal with barking at this hour and do not want her to wake up anyone else, I get a bully stick off the top of the fridge and throw it in the crate that I cannot make myself lock her in at night.

3:26am While the dog chews on her treat, I attempt to settle into the blue chair. I put my phone and glasses on the arm and spread the afghan over me. Because I am more awake now, I play several turns in Words with Friends and Hanging with Friends. I spend more time than I should trying to use all my letters on a triple word score. I can’t do it, so I play “cobbled” for 47 points instead.

3:36am The dog is finished with her treat and wants to go out back again. I curse and let her out.

3:38am She comes back in and barks at the cds.

3:39am I go back upstairs. The dog follows.

3:41am The dog and I sit on the futon and I scratch her.

3:45 The dog turns and looks out the window plaintively as if she is waiting for a long lost love to return.

3:50 The dog lays down and rests her head on the arm of the futon, weary of waiting for her love.

3:52 The dog turns around several times and goes to sleep.

3:53 I am completely awake.

4:22am I return to my bedroom to find the 4-year-old curled up perpendicular to his still sleeping father. The 4-year-old is no longer under the covers. I scoop him up, remembering how I went to the chiropractor earlier in the day because of excessive carrying of the boy and the dog that was killing my shoulders and upper back.

4:23am I carry the boy back to his room, careful not to smash his head into any doorways or bookcases and risk waking him.

4:24am I tuck him into bed. He mumbles, “I don’t want to go back to bed.” Not knowing how awake he is, I say “I have to go to the bathroom but I’ll come right back,” knowing part of that is a lie. I recall the recent conversation with my 10-year-old about when it is ok to lie, like if you’re protecting someone from being captured by Nazis. Also, now.

4:30 Hearing nothing more from dog or boy, I return to my bed.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 2.48.22 PM.pngEpisode #25 of Five Questions, in which Susan Aarhus discusses how other people’s successes make her feel, how music has shaped her relationships and made her “a piece of something larger,” the heartwrenching experience of taking her daughter away from her foster mother, and more.

Not even the sharp scent of permanent markers, used to outline bright and wobbly letters on a sign

Nor the lavender spray, meant to soothe and relax us

Or the white neutralizing product, ordered online by the gallon solely for this purpose–although it does work for a while

Can truly conquer or claim victory over the acrid odor of dog pee that now permeates the carpet in my office, the room also claimed by

One stubborn hound

Part I: Speech Therapy for Someone Who Can Speak Quite Clearly?

35388What do train whistles, chocolate pudding, a nose flute, mango nectar, mini marshmallows, peanut butter, and tongue depressors have in common? At times all of these items and a laundry list of others have been required for Zoe’s speech therapy homework. Next week she will wrap up four months of weekly sessions to correct tongue thrust, a problem we didn’t even realize she had until we started the rounds of visiting prospective orthodontists last winter. When one of them suggested speech therapy for tongue thrust, I was skeptical until I talked with a speech therapist who said that kids with tongue thrust often had to have braces twice because their thrusting tongue pushed their teeth right back out where they were to begin with. And I know this to be true because it happened to me. I had braces in middle school and again in college, but I never knew that tongue thrust was something I could correct. So in an effort to save Zoe the aggravation of extended orthodontia and save us money in the long run, we have invested money and time in speech therapy now. (Zoe just completed her course of treatment with Andi Fisher at Chain Bridge Speech and Language Therapy, a practice owned and operated by our good friend Kristin Keller Daus.)

And despite the fun foods and accessories involved, it is not always at the top of a 10-year-old’s list of activities to do speech therapy homework, especially after school homework, martial arts, soccer practice, chores, or whatever else is going on.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Zoe is no stranger to therapeutic homework. For a while she did eye exercises every night to address convergence insufficiency. Way back when she was in preschool and struggling to overcome a bladder disorder, she had pelvic therapy and other exercises to help her strengthen her pelvic floor muscles. None of this has been easy. But who said it would be, right?

Part II: Causing a Nosebleed, Lying Down on the Rug, and Ignoring Personal Space

Luckily for Zeke, his occupational therapy sessions start off with time to bounce on a big trampoline, climb onto swinging platforms hanging from the ceiling, and jump from a fluffy cloud suspended from ropes into a ball pit. He loves going to Miss Mary’s for OT. (Miss Mary being Mary Craver, who practices occupational therapy in Cabin John, Maryland.)

I never expected he would need occupational therapy. He’s always been strong, athletic, coordinated, and capable of sustained attention playing with Legos and doing puzzles. I never imagined anything was off kilter.

Then last spring, his preschool teacher mentioned on three different occasions that Zeke had thrown something on the playground that hit another kid in the face, including one occasion where the other kid got a nosebleed (I apologized later to his mom and she was gracious and not the least bit concerned, thankfully). In every case, he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. He’s not malicious (although he does occasionally punch his sister, I admit), but just had no control over his body. He would also bump into his classmates a lot in line, and whack them with his jacket while swinging it around. Zeke was also frequently causing frustration in the classroom by lying down when it was time to go outside, or refusing to get his coat on to head to the playground.

I understood his teacher’s concerns and didn’t want Zeke’s behavior to be disruptive. I also figured that those behaviors were probably typical for a three-year-old or something he would outgrow. Meanwhile, I happened to interview occupational therapist Mary Craver (who we know now as Miss Mary) for a client project. My client had been asking about how Zeke was doing, and when I shared some of these issues, she asked if I wanted to complete a sensory profile for Zeke–basically an assessment from the parents’ point of view of how a child seeks or responds to different kinds of sensory stimulation. We did this and Mary agreed to look at it. I talked with her and she suggested Zeke’s teachers fill out a profile of their observations of his behaviors at school, which they thoughtfully did. I was surprised to read some of their notes about how much effort it sometimes took to get Zeke to do what he was supposed to do in class. Especially because I’d been in his class, many times, and I never felt like he was any more or less challenging than any other kid in the class. They were three years old, after all.

Mary decided it would be best for her to observe Zeke at school to get a complete picture of what was going on. As her time with the class was coming to an end, the kids were preparing to go outside. Zeke was refusing. Apparently his classmates were lined up in the hall on their way to the playground, and he was lying down on the rug, unwilling to get his coat on despite the co-opers cajoling. Although she doesn’t typically intervene during an observation, Mary decided to help out the desperate co-oper. “Zeke!” she said. “You have one minute to get your coat on!” “OK!” he said, and jumped up and got his coat on and was ready to go outside in about 10 seconds. It turns out that Zeke just needed some parameters. She later explained to me that “get your coat on” was surprisingly too abstract for him, as if he had until the end of time to get his coat on. But I have since learned that he responds really well to time limits. On her advice, we’ve bought a time timer, just like the one she uses in her office, for our house. It’s hugely helpful in letting Zeke feel like he is in control of how he spends his time and he can clearly see how long he has to do an activity.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Part III: Why Would My Strong and Active Boy Who Can Do Puzzles and Play Legos for Hours Need Occupational Therapy?

After she reviewed the parent and teacher sensory profiles, the classroom observation, and an assessment in her office, Mary gave us a complete evaluation of Zeke’s issues. To be honest, this was a little overwhelming. Although I have several good friends whose children had done occupational therapy before and I knew they were all wonderful, fabulous, successful kids, my first thought was “what is wrong with my child?” On one level I realize this didn’t make sense. Nothing was wrong with Zeke. Yet, clearly according to this evaluation, there were areas where he struggled. He had trouble grasping and manipulating objects, balancing, and with hand-eye coordination. Truthfully I don’t fully understand the clinical vocabulary that describes Zeke’s diagnosis, but the therapist showed me exactly what he had trouble doing and I got it. I have slowly come to understand since then that the areas where he had deficits were where we saw him getting frequently frustrated at school and at home. I just didn’t realize at the time there was anything we could have done about it.

Many people (including me, to be honest) have wondered whether the behaviors Zeke is working on in OT are just typical for his age, or if he would simply outgrow them. The answer is maybe, but…I had those questions myself when we started this process and our amazing preschool director Susan Parker explained it this way–if there are things he’s struggling with that OT could help him master, that will reduce his frustration with daily activities, with school, and build his confidence, why not give him those tools? Why not, indeed?

Some of the tangible tools that Mary has given Zeke so far include a size of the problem worksheet/scale to help him assess whether something that bothers him is a small problem that he can handle, a larger problem that needs adult intervention, or a huge problem that is really serious, and a couple levels in between. There’s a little chart to help kids articulate their feelings about the size of their problem.1801284

She also helped him create a speedometer for his engine–is it running low, high, or just right? And if it’s running low or high, how can he modulate it? She also gave him a (paper) remote control that he can use to control his own brain and body (and no one else’s). Using the remote he can pause to think about something, rewind if he made a mistake or hurt someone and try again to do better, fast forward to think about possible consequences of his actions before he takes them.

Mary also showed Zeke how to correctly hold a writing or drawing utensil, making those activities much more comfortable to him. I knew he wasn’t holding crayons properly, but I wasn’t sure how to correct him in a constructive way. She’s had him using special small scissors to make it easier for him to learn the proper way to hold and use scissors.

Mary helped me realize that Zeke (and most kids) needs clear parameters when he’s being asked to do something. My repeated requests for him to get his shoes on or clean up his toys might be ignored, but if I say, “Zeke, you have one minute to get your shoes on,” he (usually) jumps on it immediately. He loves for me to count to 10 (or 20 or more) when he’s trying to do a task. Part of me fervently wishes I could just make a request and he would do it, but if counting works for now, I will surely count.

Zeke also loves the movement breaks he gets during occupational therapy, which also enable him to work on gross motor skills. These are just a few of the cool pieces of equipment in Miss Mary’s office.5442582_orig

I’ve learned from Mary that OT is a lifespan activity, addressing any needs that anyone–from infant to senior–has to better be able to function in the world. OT can address issues such as eating, holding a writing utensil, self-regulation and self-control, emotional stability, social skills, fine and gross motor skills, and so much more. Zeke’s just been doing this for a couple months so I’m still learning every week what it means for him or others.

Part IV: Speech Therapy for Someone Who Actually CANNOT Speak Clearly

Meanwhile, we’ve known for a while that Zeke has some articulation issues when he speaks. He says T for K sounds, and frequently cannot correctly pronounce words containing R, L, or TH. I asked his preschool teacher when he was two about this and she showed me a graphic that illustrates when boys are supposed to have mastered certain sounds. She assured me that he would get it and not to spend money on speech therapy. Yet.

In his three-year-old class I told the teachers my concerns about his speech and they were listening for it. They noted that sometimes they couldn’t understand him, but mostly they could, and his articulation issues didn’t seem to interfere with his learning or social interaction, and he would likely outgrow them.

I had trouble understanding him sometimes as well, although my husband and our daughter and I could probably decipher his language best out of anyone. But still, his vocabulary and expressiveness were so developed that the articulation didn’t seem to get in the way. Much.

Then, when Mary Craver evaluated Zeke for occupational therapy, she said his speech was something to think about. Understanding that it would be just a wee bit overwhelming for Zeke (and our calendar and wallet) to take Zeke to OT and speech simultaneously, she encouraged us to begin the process of getting Zeke evaluated through Child Find for speech therapy services that would be provided at no cost to us by Arlington County. This was welcome news.

We started this process in May. I called the Child Find office to find out how to apply and received a packet in the mail. I completed the application and had to ask one of Zeke’s wonderful teachers to fill out yet another form about him, which she graciously did. I found Zeke’s birth certificate and medical records and a mortgage statement (to prove we live in Arlington) and headed over to the Child Find office to submit the application. Turns out the mortgage statement didn’t work, and I needed the deed to our house. Although we have that in a file cabinet, I had no idea which pages were the right ones, so I went to the Arlington County Courthouse and paid $9 for them to copy the 16 pages needed to prove we live here, and took them back to Child Find. Once I was back there, the fantastic administrative assistant Elizabeth pointed out that the hearing test box on Zeke’s physical form was checked but there was no indication of whether he had passed or failed the screening. Hearing tests are required for speech therapy evaluations. So I took Zeke to the pediatrician the next day to get a hearing test, which it turned out he hadn’t had at all during his last check-up but the nurse had accidentally checked the box that he had. At the pediatrician’s office a young nurse did a hearing test which I observed and wondered if she was doing it correctly. She said he failed. So…I made an appointment with our ENT to have Zeke do a more comprehensive hearing screening. Which he passed with flying colors. Whew! But what was interesting about the more extensive test, which involved the audiologist asking Zeke, through headphones, to repeat certain words, was I realized there were a LOT of words I couldn’t understand Zeke saying when they were out of context. I suddenly understood that my ability to converse with Zeke depended a lot on the context of his sentences, and that many individual words were indecipherable.

So we took the successful hearing screening results to Child Find and our application was complete! Meanwhile, on June 1 we had an initial meeting with a team there, including the Child Find Coordinator, a psychologist, and a social worker. They talked with me about the background of Zeke’s speech issues, his occupational therapy issues, and what my concerns were. The social worker played with Zeke with a bunch of toys in the office. Everyone was incredibly friendly. They determined that Zeke should have a speech evaluation and said a speech therapist would be calling us to schedule an appointment.

Apparently it took a while for the speech therapists to wrap up school year appointments and do whatever else they had to do, and I ended up calling the Child Find office four or five times to ensure our appointment was still forthcoming. Finally, in mid-July, we heard from the person who would be doing Zeke’s assessment, and will be meeting her on August 2. Then, after a couple more calls, we have an appointment on August 25 for Zeke’s final eligibility meeting, where the Child Find team talks with me about the speech therapist’s evaluation, and determines what’s next for Zeke. Again, whew. I have to reiterate that even though all this has taken a while, everyone who I’ve spoken with at Child Find has been extremely kind and helpful. Especially Elizabeth the admin. She rocks.

The Child Find coordinator said if Zeke is deemed eligible to receive speech therapy services, they will take place at our neighborhood elementary school. This sounded great to me because it’s less than a 10-minute walk from our house, and would give Zeke a familiarity with the school he will attend a year from now for kindergarten. And best of all, it’s free. From what I understand from all the therapists and educators I’ve talked with this year, it’s so much easier for the kids and the school system if these kinds of issues are caught and corrected before elementary school starts. So that’s our goal.

Part V: The Moral of the Story

No doubt this saga is far from over for everyone in our family. There will always be more appointments and more therapies and more issues. But I am so thankful that we have these wonderful resources at hand to help our kids overcome frustration, improve their social skills, prevent future orthodontic catastrophe, and so much more. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to intervene and when to let it go, but it’s gratifying when you see that something you’ve done is helping your kid thrive. Parenting is hard enough as it is. Thank goodness for all of these teachers and therapists and helpers who have my kids’ backs.


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