Monthly Archive: August 2017

Filling the Gas Tank

Originally published as a TinyLetter


The world feels like it’s gone to hell lately, doesn’t it?

In my news feed last night, there was Charlottesville, Pyongyang, Barcelona. The president of the United States won’t condemn actual Nazis and could very well Tweet us into nuclear war. People are willfully driving cars into their fellow human beings. To quote Kathleen Norris, “Only ideology can hate that thoroughly.”

It’s hard to understand how someone could possibly act that way, and even harder to figure out what to say or do. It’s nearly impossible when we’re running ourselves so ragged that we don’t have the bandwidth to engage with the world around us.

These days I’m so exhausted and stressed out that I put off looking at the news, sometimes for days. I simply cannot muster the energy. I realize that white privilege allows me to shield myself from the headlines. I can hide from reality because I’m not at much risk of becoming a headline myself — at a traffic stop, a park, or a convenience store.

Yesterday the gas tank in my car dipped to nearly empty. My office is right next door to a Shell station, but when I’m rushing from home to day care to work and then back again, I think, “I’ll fill up at lunchtime,” which becomes “before I leave work,” which becomes “tomorrow,” and I don’t fill up until there are seven miles left before the gas runs out. I treat my body the same way, putting off tending to its basic needs until it starts screaming at me that I’m dehydrated, ravenous, or am about to pee my pants.

My friend Charbel’s excellent new podcast gave me a word for what I’m experiencing: burnout. Signs of burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment and cynicism, and self-focus. It’s why I feel like I don’t have the headspace to engage with the news, much less do anything about it, or treat my toddler with compassion when he’s demanding chicken nuggets.

We need to fill up our gas tanks before we can drive anywhere. We are of no use to anyone when we are running on empty. Taking care of ourselves is not selfish; it’s what allows us to be good stewards and allies, effective parents and workers. If we don’t do it for our own sake, we must do it for the people who are counting on us.

In true “like I always say” fashion, I’m not entirely sure how to take my own advice. It’s one thing to know the best thing to do — especially when it comes to self-care — and a totally different thing to do it.

Here are a few ways to start. I can listen to my body’s signals and take care of my basic needs as soon as they present themselves. I can stop swiping away the daily reminders I get from my Headspace app and take 10 minutes to meditate. I can take note each day of the ways I’m able to help other people when my own gas tank is full, because I’ve opened up the room to notice and address their needs.

And on that note…

what’s fueling me


Malala is going to Oxford (and The Onion is on it)

An 84-year-old woman recovered her long-lost engagement ring when her daughter found it on a carrot on the family farm (h/t Laverne Dicker)

My kids are starting to play together as the baby grows, and she just adores her older brother

Jason Isbell’s newest album, The Nashville Sound, speaks to my soul right now. If you haven’t yet, you need to listen to “Hope the High Road“:

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again

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Originally published as a TinyLetter

I can understand why some people with young children don’t go anywhere. Darren and I have to move mountains every time we leave the house with the kids, and often we’re scrambling at the last minute. Don’t forget the diaper bag. Argh, the baby’s bottles aren’t prepped. Buddy, where’s your other shoe?!

Managing this day to day is challenging enough, but traveling takes it to a whole new level. This week we are in the Nashville area on the annual Schwindaman family trip that Darren long ago dubbed “Schwindamania.” I’m realizing how many items I wish I’d brought, and how the ones I did bring are scattered willy-nilly around our vacation rental. Yesterday I spent a frenzied 30 minutes pinballing around the house, gathering supplies and toys for our excursion.

“What I need is some damn mise-en-place,” I thought.

If you watch cooking shows, you’re probably familiar with mise-en-place, the system that chefs use to prepare their utensils and ingredients for cooking. It’s pronounced meez-on-plahss and is French for “put in place.”

This NPR piece explores mise-en-place as a way of being that chefs carry with them outside of the kitchen.

“You mise-en-place your life,” said Alexandra Tibbats, a student at the Culinary Institute of America. “You set up your books for class, you set up your chef whites, your shoes are shined, you know everything that you need every step of the day.”

Another CIA student said, “It really is a way of life … it’s a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions.”

Another principle of mise-en-place is “slow down to speed up.” Telepan chef and owner Bill Telepan explains: “I always say, ‘Look, I’d rather you take an extra minute or two and slow up service to get it right.’ Because the one minute behind you are now is going to become six minutes behind because we’re going to have to redo the plate.”

I can’t stand the frenzied mental state that comes from not preparing well, at work or at home. It sets me up to get mad at myself for being late, holding other people up, and making mistakes. That’s energy I could expend in more productive ways — on playing with the kids, for example, or on creative projects.

Mise-en-place is incredibly rewarding when it works as intended. When the baby soaked through her diaper while we were out and about, I grabbed the large Ziploc bag I’d packed with supplies and quickly changed her into a fresh onesie. I didn’t need to hunt for what I needed or get upset because I didn’t have it. I could just move on and enjoy the rest of the afternoon with the family.

Setting out what you need now, with everything in its place, sets you up to calmly move through the day and spend your limited energy wisely. Mise-en-place, like I always say. 🙂

 what’s fueling me




  • A flight of three half-scoops from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (I could eat a whole pint of their signature Brambleberry Crisp)
  • A karaoke machine in the vacation rental (with “I Want It That Way,” “Ice Ice Baby,” and a bunch of Britney)
  • Playing guitar and singing with my brother-in-law (we killed “Down in the Valley” by the Head and the Heart)
  • A morning walk in the sunshine
  • Sitting on the porch with the family, sipping a beer and just taking a minute to breathe


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Image via Stijn Nieuwendijk