The smell of pine makes a heart feel fine

I didn't get out of my pajamas until 6 o'clock at night Saturday. I spent the morning sleeping, talking to my sister who had just labored for 71 hours with her son, Atticus, and writing my grandmother's obituary. I napped for two hours and felt vaguely human again.

By yesterday I had climbed out of my fog and therefore decided to push on with my Christmas decorating. The last piece?? The tree!!! The rest of the house was already done - thank God for busy work, right? - and Anthony had set up an old train set from his father's boyhood days which would be perfect to circle the tree.

We went to the same nursery we visited the first holiday season after Hollis was born. They carry gorgeous Fraser firs which look blue and whose needles are soft like rubber. We were in and out in under 15 minutes. I decided a couple of years ago to avoid those anxiety- and bickering-filled family Christmas-tree-hunting outings of my childhood by really embracing the idea that its JUST A TREE and no matter what we get it'll look beautiful and magical.

Actually, Hollis was more interested in the Koi pond than anything else.

While the college-aged boys were loading it on the top of our car I was busy buckling Hollis into his car seat. From his vantage point all he could see were the legs and torsos of these young men standing on our car. He was beyond excited, shouting, "Man! Car! Tree!!" We were all cracking up.

Once we got it home it was nap time. Hollis, as a two year old is apt to do, forgot all about the tree when he woke up. He skidded to a stop as he rounded the corner and yelled, "Tree!" when he saw it in the front window. I'm telling you, I'd have a tree in every room of our house if I could, his reaction was so precious.

When it was time for decorating Hollis ran around the tree and played on the window-box. He shouted, "Help! Tree! Mama! Dada!" and alternated between dragging his chair and his step-stool around. Anything to "help" and make him taller was fine with him.

He's a really gentle kid by nature (he must get that from Anthony) and he gingerly hung his little owl ornament for this year - this white, feathery poof of a thing - on a branch and watched in rapt wonder as Anthony and I went to these mysterious boxes and pulled out "balls" and weird little doodads and started to hang them on the house tree. He quickly caught on and decided he'd hang some, too, though instead of hanging them, he placed them. In a careful heap on a low hanging bough... with packing peanuts he found in the ornament boxes. Ugh. The cuteness! Must. stop. the. cuteness! My heart just can't take this!!

It's just gotta be so weird to see the first time. A tree in the house?! And then we put all these shiny, dangling things all over it hahaha.

There were a few "men" lost in the fray, but nothing I gave a shit about. Hollis would yell, "Broke!" and we'd sweep it up and try to keep him away from the other breakable ornaments. In fact, our tree is divided clean in half. The upper half houses all fragile ornaments, the bottom half all the felt, wooden, paper, and plastic. (My parents took it a step further when I was a toddler and only decorated the top half of their entire tree haha. Gotta love it.)

The grand finale was cleaning up because it involved the vacuum cleaner.

I'm pretty sure Hollis had one of the best days of his sweet, baby life yesterday. Not only did it involve Koi, trees, ornaments, trains, and vacuum cleaners, but he also ate his first donut ever and made friends with a skiing polar bear lawn ornament on our nightly walk. And his amazing day made my day exponentially better, too.

Children are so powerful and I don't think we even realize it in our day-to-day goings on sometimes. I still feel "drunk" off his day yesterday; I can't wipe this smile off of my face. Although, that could be because while I've been writing he's been on my lap watching Sesame Street skits on Hulu and kissing and loving on me. Either way, I'm feeling pretty damn warm and fuzzy today.

This post was brought to you by
Adrian Grenier: Season, Paul Rudd: Brilliant, Sesame Street Mad Men, Abby Cadabby's Wand Magic With Elmo, Hey Food, The King and I, Danger's No Stranger.


Life goes on with Turkish coffee

Today I spent the day with my dear friend, Amanda, and her dad, Kareem, in San Antonio (an extremely welcome break from the last few days of worry about my grandma).

When we were in our early 20s Amanda and I spent a few misbegotten months as roommates post graduation until she decided to move back in with her parents to reassess her life and its direction (she'd end up going to law school in Houston).

During that time as new ex-roommates I would drive down to stay with her and her lovely, hospitable parents in their clean, safe suburban home. It was like an oasis in my life of chaos and I have wonderful memories of eating homemade dolma and watching cable on her parents' couch.

The 'rents have since moved into an enormous, multi-windowed house, but the hospitality is exactly the same. Kareem had a twinkle in his eye as he greeted me and his beautiful Arabic accent tripped of his tongue as he said, "Hullo, Hollis!" Hollis twinkled back at him and regarded him with no skepticism whatsoever even though he was a perfect stranger, but with an open-hearted two-year old eye. At some point during the visit Hollis took to wandering after the blind and deaf dog who either walked or hopped everywhere and following Kareem around the house who would pat and touch him and ruffle his hair.

Kareem was just finishing his Turkish coffee when we arrived and I couldn't help but ask if there was any left. He obligingly made me my own demitasse cup of dark, rich, aromatic, and just-barely-sweet coffee. I was in freaking coffee heaven. Seriously, if you like your coffee black especially, you've got to try Turkish coffee. It's legions above the rest.

And my interest was genuine since I've only ever had Turkish coffee in college and never since, and Anthony himself recently discovered it, so Kareem offered to teach me how to make it! After hand-peeling spicy cardamom seeds into the coffee grinder with almost-black coffee beans, we ground them to a fine powder. Kareem then shook the grinder and banged its bottom on the counter vigorously in order to get the right dusty consistency. Next, we boiled water in a cezve and added the coffee powder, a dash of sugar, boiled it some more and then drank it up.

Meanwhile, Amanda had put Hollis on a bar stool. And then he started doing this:

Amazing, right?? This is just a few seconds of minutes' worth of dazzling two-year old coffee-grinding interpretation.


Man... today was just what I needed.

Thank you Amanda, Ragini, and Kareem, for being so freaking lovely.


Dearest Grandma Berber,

You died tonight. You were 89.

I was told you looked nothing of your old self; your nails were long and unruly, your hair unkempt, and your body frail and tiny beneath a cotton gown.

We found out Friday you had a heart attack late Thursday. Last night you had a stroke, then we found out it was even more severe... then you were gone. Just like that.

I was going to fly out this weekend as soon as someone could watch Hollis. Though without any real hope of seeing you alive, I still had hope I could be there in some way that you might know. But you had other plans.

The last time I saw you I said Good Bye and not just in our parting ways, but in my heart. I knew you were already gone, a shell of the woman I once knew and loved. I am so sorry that it ended this way. Your worst nightmare, really. Alone, scared, and ancient to your own memory of yourself. You probably didn't know yourself in the mirror any more. Maybe you were at peace with that. More likely you just didn't remember to mind.

But at least there was relief in that, your memory. For you had almost none left. What you remembered was whittled down by time to you noticing the bright sky outside your window and that you were always so, so tired. Phone conversations befuddled you and lasted 30 seconds. Your warbled words fading as you clicked disconnect. You had long since stopped any written correspondence, an art form of connection you had relied upon for decades.

I remember when I first realized you were changing. It was before Dad died - before I even knew Dad was sick - and you didn't send me a Christmas card or present. At first I thought you must be mad at me for not talking to your dearest son, your baby, but I soon realized it was because you had simply forgotten it was Christmas. And to think, just the year before you had painstakingly embroidered two identical pieces for Gabby and me, had them framed, and mailed to us for Christmas. An image of a young girl with a frilly cap, herself carefully embroidering. How quickly things changed.

Did you know that it's because of you that I ever endeavored to cook or entertain? Your stories about beef Wellington for an average Wednesday night dinner inspired me. Your fine china, and pretty "entertaining" room taught me that it's the littlest things in life that can make you feel special in your own home, or that can make a stranger feel welcome.

I remember that you quit smoking your single afternoon cigarette the day the surgeon general said that smoking was bad for you.

I remember that you used to dry your diapers on the line even during brutal, arctic Chicago winters and that you'd have to crack the ice off of them to reveal a mostly dry diaper.

I remember that you called Great Grandma Ursula a "slut" and wouldn't let her and her "man friend" stay the night in your house and how proud of yourself you were for that. (Even now imagining you calling anyone a slut makes me laugh.)

I remember that Pa told you he would turn the car around on the way to the church to marry Grandpa Ray, but you were too determined to get out of the house to admit you wanted to.

I remember that you didn't know until your wedding night that men had other things besides just a penis and how hard we laughed at the absurd naivete you'd had.

I remember the bright yellow dress you made for me and the matching baby blue one for Gabby that we wore on Easter.

I remember your kitchen, every inch of your house, every knick-knack, even where every painting and photo was in your house. I could probably draw the insides of your makeup drawers even today.

You were always the epitome of old school feminine regard, never without lipstick and a kitten heel, never without your hair done, always with a quick hello and how-do-you-do, you were the master of small talk.

I never really understood why so many people turned their backs on you over the years, but you never let them shut the door. You always persevered and won them back. Those mean ladies at bridge in Oak Park? You charmed the pants off of them anyway. Church ladies who thought you were judging them? You invited them over for lunch. You made friends when you were 6 and never stopped loving them. What a remarkable thing that is.

And Grandma, I am so sorry that you lost Ring and Dad and that Randy and you had such a complicated relationship. I'm sorry that you lost your baby brother all those decades ago, your own 9 day old baby girl, your mother when you still so desperately needed her, your Bob, and then your grey-haired baby sister. All you ever spoke of when you could still tell stories was of them and how much you missed them all. I've never known anyone who lived among the dead so passionately as you.

I could write for hours about you, Grandma Berber. I really could. When I finish this I'm going to go and lay down and think, "Shit, I forgot about the time: we colored Easter eggs and drank copious amounts of white wine; cleaned your river rocks for hours and hours one by freakin' one; went to the senior country club and we couldn't figure out why we were the only ones not having to ask for more champagne then realized it was because I was the only one under 60 in the entire joint; we ate tiny, crust-less sugar sandwiches with our teeny tiny tea cups; went to Rawhide and drank a yard of beer together and got our old western pictures taken; or the time when I called you crying because I was with Grandma Katie and she was so sick and dying herself and I didn't know what to do and you hugged me through the phone with your sweet voice and strength and told me that no matter what I did Katie would know I loved her." Thirty-four years of loving memories, Grandma... that's pretty awesome.

I hope you always knew how much I loved and adored you. Tricking you that day to get you into assisted living was one of the worst things I've ever done to anyone. Gabby and I were appalled at what we were doing, but also knew it was the best way. A little Valium, a lunch out, and The Devil Wears Prada later and you had a new home a la Jessie and Gabby. You were never even mad at us, just scared. Thank you for that. I never would have forgiven myself had you blamed me... but then again, you were beginning to leave us then, so maybe you just couldn't remember how you ended up there.

I will always remember you in your doorway, hunched just a little, small and silver, with a bright smile on your face with the love you felt for us, waving goodbye. I'm not sure you remembered our names this last time, but it didn't matter. You recognized our hearts, even the newest one we introduced to you. - What a remarkable meeting that was to witness: the old and the new, both in a place of innocence and dependence just from two different places on the circle. Did you even realize how comforting it was to see us all together like that?

Sweet Grandma Berber, I trust you are finally at peace with your family. You will always be missed and always loved. Thank you for being you. Thank you for loving me.

Your loving granddaughter,

Barbara Janet McDowell Warner Schrader
July 9, 1920 - November 23, 2009

Your kitchen & Anthony, Easter 03

Easter 07


FunAcCanBeFu: Funny Acronyms Can Be Fun

I think I may have posted less this month than any other month and I find it incredibly ironic since so many are doing NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month).

NaBloPoMo happens monthly, but a lot more bloggers seem to be doing it in November, partly, I assume because it was inspired by the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which only occurs in November.

In any case, I've decided to do IComLeavWe (International Comment Leaving Week) to try and get my juices flowing and reconnect with all my bloggy friends whom I have neglected for the last several weeks.

The jist is this: I have to leave 5 comments out there in the ether and respond to one comment left on my blog. Six comments a day for 7 days (from today, the 21st, till the 28th).

And, like Annie at PhD in Parenting, I'm going to up the ante and leave comments on everyone on my blogroll over the next week. I regularly hit about a dozen a week, so this will be a little extra challenging. I think I'll shoot for 10 comments a day on other blogs and respond to 2 commenters of my blog. If I miss a day, I have to double up the following day.

Today is the last day to sign up for this if you're interested!


When 100% might be too much

I am detached and lost.

How can that be? I also feel extremely happy and grounded, and yet, I continue to have this out of body sense, too, that I'm not all here.

Is it because of Hollis' developmental stage? My own peculiar form of malaise? What is it? Am I harming my sweet little baby by feeling this way? Us? Me? My life? Our life?

Lately so many amazing things have been happening and while they register with me, I still feel separate from all of it.

Anthony got a terrific raise and promotion. Hollis' language is motoring on in leaps and bounds. My marriage is more solid than ever. I'm more certain of myself as a parent than ever before. Perhaps it's because these things are safe and taken care of that my mind has turned inward; I have more mental real estate to play with, so to speak.

I don't know.

Some moments, just mere moments, I catch myself feeling bereft. They flicker past like a blink, a twinkle in the distance, and I'm left wondering what just happened to me.

I look back on old pictures of me with Hollis and I almost don't recognize that girl for I feel so utterly different today. I was consumed with my baby and trying to figure out all that went along with caring for a helpless human being. CONSUMED. Today, I am consumed mostly with my own longings and tribulations and it feels wholly wrong. I should be concentrating on Hollis and his needs, wants, and desires more. I don't know what it may look like to the outside world, but to me I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about myself.

For example, right now I've finished eating therefore I'm writing and he's propped up in front of the TV watching The Little Mermaid and eating leftover pizza. A year ago TV didn't exist in our house and I would have been feeding him directly or eating with him, or at least waiting for him to finish.

I think it's important to make a disclaimer here. I love to hate myself. I get that. It's my thing. It's why I'm 20 lbs over-weight, why I over-spend on occasion, and why I sometimes imbibe too much. If I didn't have those things in my life, then what on earth would I hate on?? Ten years of therapy aren't all for naught. I at least know the cross I bear in great detail. No one could ever accuse me of not having insight, it's just the wherewithal to change it permanently that's my Sisyphus.

Every day I pull myself out of my reverie to look into Hollis' bright, blue eyes and feel his presence. I take him everywhere with me, I breathe in his scent as if it were the most potent drug, I listen for all his cues of need. Perhaps no one could ever tell how I'm feeling on the inside, much as Cave Mother writes about here, but I feel at war with myself practically every moment of the day. It's exhausting.

A dear friend of mine from my childhood recently called me because my note about the balancing act we mothers strive to achieve "pained" her. She's a newish mom who has a 7 month old in an attachment parenting day care full time. Her attorney duties keep her away 40 hours a week, but she's within driving distance and she often volunteers as a helper so she still feels connected. She also has a "deal" with herself that she won't do anything that will take her away from her sweet little one more than two times a week in the evenings to do errands, etc. And it seemed to me while talking to her that she was really and truly happy. No, it wasn't easy and no, it wasn't perfect, but she's clearly hammered out some things I'm only just now facing.

What pained her to read about my struggle was that she feared I was being too hard on myself. "All jobs have crap associated with them and it doesn't mean you're a jerk for thinking that about your job as a stay-at-home-mom."

Wow. What a powerful thing to hear and from another momma and I've really, really been thinking about it ever since. I've said the words, "my job is being a mother," but I've never allowed myself to let the thought, "and this job has some crap features," to ever cohabit my thoughts. I've expected absolute perfection from myself, and only pure, sweet thoughts. Otherwise, somehow I felt that I was a lesser mother and when you say "lesser mother," it doesn't just mean you suck at a job, but you suck at being a mother. Something so enormously more important than any old job that it's nearly impossible for any of us to detangle the web motherhood weaves about us.

And isn't that what this is all about? I have let my own identity and self-worth become tied to motherhood, something I set out to avoid with all the ferocity I could muster. I am careful not to over identify with Hollis and his emotions: he is entitled to push me away, swing at me, be mad at me, whatever and it's no reflection on me as a person whatsoever. I've got that nailed, but when it comes to my own perceived presence of mind I am treading dangerous, landmine-filled ground. Obviously.

If I don't keep a perfect house (something which has nothing to do with mothering per se), then I am a bad person. If I am not 100% present with Hollis, or come up with good ideas for play, or tune him out I am also a bad person.

I've taken the negative space of the chair and beaten myself with it.

My friend was also concerned with my line of thoughts regarding what a "good mother" was. Did I think she was less of a mother because she was willing to go back to work and put her son in daycare when I so clearly feel I don't have that option because I want to be a "good mother"?

I was so keen to not over-identify with mothering itself and burden Hollis with a mother whose emotions were ensnared with his own that I have caught myself in a different kind of net. A net of utter mothering and wifing perfection which includes 100% round the clock attendance by me and no one else. No wonder I can't seem to bring myself to be "100%" available these days, I was giving more than I should have all along. Maybe 75% is still really fucking good, you know??

I dunno.

I know a lot of you have already gone through this and figured it all out. I appreciate everyone's thoughts and advice on this.

PS: I've been trying to get pregnant for over a year. I'm pretty certain this has something to do with all of this: I'm ready for the next level of parenthood and I've been unable to attain it. I am so effing ready to add to my family. Soon, hopefully, I'll look back on the last six months of boredom and frustration with a laugh at my simpering, brooding mood. Wish me luck.


Subject: Working-at-home dad

An email from Anto while I'm at an appointment:

It ain't easy staying focused


Fun, fun, fun, exhaustion, and more fun

The past few days have been really fun and exhausting. Fun because of Hollis. And, you guessed it, exhausting because of Hollis.

Here's some examples of the fun we've been having:

In addition to these little gems, today at a mom's group meet up to organize a book club (that's another post that I'll get to soon) at a local coffee shop Hollis struck toddler gold when he discovered an Elmo toy.

"Mamamamamamamamamamamamamama!" he squealed, "MOMO!!!!" and pointed at the toy while bouncing on his toes and tensing every muscle in his body.

He got the attention of 11 mothers and several of their children with that little happy dance. I was so proud. And the cuteness didn't even come close to wearing off the fifth time, I swear to God. (Seriously the cutest thing I've seen him do in weeks!)

The exhausting part comes in because I'm struggling to keep our time together, and this house in general, filled with YESes. He zips around like a maniac on a moment's notice and starts grabbing, pulling, pushing, eating, tearing, opening, closing, and generally manhandling everything and anything he can get his hands on. Of course, the NOs ensue and I hate it. I rack my brain for YESes: Here, eat this cheese, not that gas-key. Here, tear this catalog, not this book. Here, push Mommy, not Digby.

I don't punish Hollis and so far it's working great. It's about molding our world to fit his in a reasonable, safe way, but boy, lately my fuse has been shorter than usual and I find myself tempted to shout and think of punitive ways to curb his enthusiasm. I've been catching myself before the act, but the thoughts are there and I feel like this is just the beginning. I have years ahead of me of pushed boundaries and little people flat out ignoring me because they can. I feel like I should get a game plan in place before the play is called. Even if I fall flat on my face at least then I might have a better chance of success than if I just try to wing it, right??

I dunno. It's exciting and special and I love that Hollis is growing up. I love finding famous bobbleheads in the shower and Elmo strewn about the house. As we enter these days of newfound independence and differntiation I'm going to try to keep my eye on the prize of emotional cognition and, ultimately for me, a stronger bond with my son for when things are really tough (high school, anyone??). Oh. My. God. I mean, how does anyone ever figure that one out?

Housekeeping note: Do you have me in your blogroll and you're not in mine? Let me know and I'll fix that right away. I only know of a handful of blogs who list me, but that's because of the Lijit widget and repeat visits to those sites. Thanks!


In other news:

Hollis pet a toad tonight during our nightly walk around the block.

It was fucking glorious.

And I caught it and held it for him. Toad pee be damned, I was gonna show how brave I am. I've never loved an amphibian so much as I do right now...

Thank you, Friend Toad. I appreciate your patience and understanding.


Balancing act

No one is going to feel sorry for me when I say that I am bored.

It sounds privileged and snotty even to me, but there you have it. I am.

I am on average either completely alone (someone's napping or asleep therefore leaving me by myself) or with a 2-year old the majority of my day. I get adult interaction for roughly an hour in the morning consisting of, "What do you want for breakfast?", "Please take the trash out," "Don't forget your lunch," and "Bye, love you!" kiss, kiss; and for approximately 3 hours in the evening, which then includes "How was your day, dear?" "Do you want wine/beer/seconds?" a walk around the block and a [usually] quite pleasant chat about who's going to launch the bedtime sequence followed by a little Hulu or a movie or a nightcap.

I know.

Not all that bad, right??

Well, here's the thing: I don't really know who that person is. This woman in a box. I can coerce friends to hang out with me and my little 2 year old pal about twice a month. If you multiply that by maybe 2-3 friends, that's maybe 6 adult interactions, which last no more than 2 hours each. That's 12 hours of grown-up time on my own terms (and even then that's being largely generous for two reasons: 1) "my terms" aren't even remotely close to what I have and 2) I think I usually see one friend once a month - the other numbers are purely fantasy). Add to that Anthony's travel schedule and for a large part of the time I'm 100% on my own.

Today I ran errands and kept seeing UPS trucks zipping around. Their drivers so full of energy, things to do, places to go, deadlines to keep, and I was jealous. Jealous that I have to scramble to fill a day with a wonderfully precocious, inquisitive little boy in order to do right by him. This should come easily to me, right? If I were a good mother, I wouldn't have to work so hard to be present or real or energetic. I wish I had a schedule of deliveries just like those men in brown.

I know there are some of you out there rolling your eyes at me as you juggle full- or part-time jobs, exes, and multiple children and you think I'm spoiled or just plain ridiculous. But here's the bottom line: I have too much time on my hands. When I was working, going to school, being pregnant, decorating a house, nursing an infant, raising a baby, whatever, I was so busy that I didn't even think about boredom or loneliness. There's a reason why so many people bury themselves in work/their kids/whatever: it's distracting from the rest of their lives and they don't have to feel badly about themselves.

I don't have that luxury. Hollis is so easy, and leaping into full-blown independence. My marriage is intact and a safe haven. My family is nearby and supportive. My health is solid. I don't have anything to immerse myself into anymore and I am adrift and overwrought with time, plain and simple.

If I were simply trying to survive this wouldn't be a problem. If all I did was think about how to connect the next dot this wouldn't be a problem. But I don't, because I am privileged. My partner makes plenty of money for me to stay home with Hollis. I am a minority. I am oh, so lucky. I am also, oh so confused.

I've seriously been considering getting a job, but we plan on leaving the state soon and so that's an obstacle to work; we're also planning on expanding our family which means that starting a career here is a little less than futile. I'm also not entirely ok with the idea of putting Hollis into daycare just because I'm having a hard time - never mind the fact that what kind of work could I possibly do that would pay for the day care?? Anyway, you see where I'm going with this. Yes, I'm privileged to stay home, but we really can't afford for me to work only part-time or make less than a full-blown salary, either.

Being a stay at home mom is a balancing act of finesse, skill, determination, and intelligence and right now the scales are tipped off balance leaving me restless, bored, sad, and guilt-ridden. I love Hollis more than anything else, adore what I do with him day in and day out, but I am left somehow hollow. How can this be??

I don't know what else to say except that, again, I am struggling. Confused. Restless.

Always fucking struggling. I'm so tired of this.

I wish a UPS truck would just come and deliver me. Somewhere. Anywhere. Just for a weekend. I feel like if I could just get a weekend by myself, as myself, I could feel right again. I just need a tracking number...


A year ago yesterday

A year ago yesterday I wrote this post about Levi. I meant to remember the moment it happened, but it passed me by in time-change confusion and excitement over chilly nights. In truth, I've been remembering it for months, so it's not so surprising that the anniversary slipped past me.

I remember that horrible night when I think I see my sweet baby dog out of the corner of my eye, but really it's just my boots.

I remember his sweet, soft face in the middle of the night when I mistake a pillow for his large, slumbering body.

Rooster remembers him whenever we hear fire crackers, a car back fire, or thunder and often says, "Poor Levi would be miserable right now. I miss that guy..."

And I remember him in a visceral way that knocks the wind out of me: my heart is light as I crack open the front door and expect to see his black, wiggling body and snuffling nose to greet me, but it isn't there. That moment is the most painful, the let down that he isn't there and will never be there again.

I have no desire to get another dog. None. For one, my hands are full with a two year old and my fraying sanity; and two, my heart isn't ready for it. I am not prepared to love a set of four legs again like I did Levi. He was my everything for so long and he so gracefully transitioned to second place once Hollis was born I haven't stopped giving him top billing in my heart yet. He deserves more time there.

This summer, on a hot, still day, I hiked down to the greenbelt with Rooster and Hawk and Levi's ashes. It was an emotional moment for me and one I hadn't even been certain that I wanted others to witness. In the end, I realized that Rooster had known, loved, and lived with Levi for 6 years, had witnessed his decline and death, and therefore deserved to be with me and Levi when I sprinkled his ashes. I'm glad I made that choice.

We hiked to the little swimming hole, now dry as bone, and climbed the cliff with the "No Cliff Diving" sign. The wind gusted, as did my temper, and foiled the more romantic notion of letting the ashes blow in the wind. In the end, Rooster carefully dumped the ashes in a little pile next to a yellow daisy in the limestone and we walked away. Me, eyes filled with tears and a toddler on my back. Rooster, silent and steadfast beside me.

I could never have asked for a better animal to share my life with. He was gentle, sweet, easy going, and his spirit won over everyone he met. He was just that kind of dog. I miss him every day, although a little less with each passing minute. I have pictures of him scattered sparingly throughout the house.

I don't think I could handle many more reminders of him. I almost burst into tears the moment I realized the wedding painting we had our friends fill in was still missing his paw prints.

Levi, sweet baby dog, I love you and miss you and hope you're having a splendid time chasing rabbits in a fire-cracker-free world.


ChaLEAN Extreme Review: Lean Phase - Not a miracle worker, just a great program

I'm getting a lot of hits from people searching reviews of this program. If you find my review helpful in anyway, please leave me a comment or ask me more questions if you have them and go here if you'd like for me to respond. Thanks!

Here's my Burn Phase Review.
Here's my Push Phase Review.
Here's my Turbo Jam Review.
Phase 3 of the three phase ChaLEAN Extreme program is the Lean Phase. This is the phase where you combine upper and lower body exercises to also engage your core. In other words, this is where you work your ass off and sweat profusely.

This has been a long time coming and I finished it the end of August. Sorry for such a late update!


There are 9 exercises in each circuit, just like in the Burn and Push Phases but instead of trying to reach failure between 6-8 reps, you're back to the 10-12. There is also a break down set (a.k.a. Extreme Set) after each exercise, so these workouts are closer to 50 minutes long.

A week in the Lean Phase looks like this:
  • Day 1 - Lean Circuit 1
  • Day 2 - Rest (this is critical because of the intensive weight training of Circuits 1 & 2 - you can add a cardio here, but don't do back-to-back Circuits)
  • Day 3 - Lean Circuit 2
  • Day 4 - Burn Intervals & Extreme Abs
  • Day 5 - Lean Circuit 3
  • Day 6 - Burn it Off! & Recharge
  • Day 7 - Rest
Burn Intervals is a combination strength- and cardio- training that alternates bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity. Ab Burner & Extreme Abs are 10 minute workouts that uses weights to work your middle. Burn it Off! is high intensity with light weights and approximately 30 minutes long and Recharge is a yoga-esque stretching routing that lasts 20 minutes.


Now we're back to 9 exercises with 3 Extreme Reps so the workout length is closer to that in the Burn Phase (35-40 minutes long) for Circuits 1, 2, and 3.

The Burn Intervals & Ab Burner/Extreme Abs workouts total about an hour, as do the Burn it Off! & Recharge combo.


Because I had become stronger during Burn and Push and had purchased more weights (5lbs, 10lbs, & 20lbs) for Push I didn't buy any more for Lean. I might have needed maybe 5 lbs more on my heaviest weight, though, so I will probably buy another set for Round 2 meaning I have a total weight count of 3 lbs, 8 lbs, 10 lbs, 12 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs, and 25 lbs.


Lean Phase is where you're supposed to see all the amazing effects of your efforts. It wasn't the case for me AT ALL. I loved the exercises, felt amazingly strong and healthy, but I only lost 5 lbs of the 10 lbs I put on at the start of the Burn Phase. I purchased the BodyBugg half way through the Push Phase and I think that's what helped me lose the 5 lbs that I did, not the exercises.

Having said that, I never really altered my eating, kept drinking alcohol throughout the program, and didn't do one exercise more than what was laid out in the guidebook. Therefore, I blame myself for the lack of results, not the program.

Even so, the Lean Phase was by far my favorite phase. Even after 4 weeks there were sets I still couldn't get through entirely and I loved that sense of a challenge. I also wasn't very good at doing the ab workouts assigned; skipping those entirely most weeks and so a weaker core may have contributed to my inability to complete some sets.

Towards the end of the program my back began hurting and then I injured it terribly the beginning of September. I've maintained my 5 lb weight loss since then, but am only now feeling well enough to start over again. Which is my plan.

So, even though I don't have an amazing "after picture" to share, I'm still a huge fan of this program. I'm going to restart it next Monday all the way from Burn on through again. I'll continue updates on how my second time through goes.