Pause. Relax. Breathe. Plan.

Photo: Rennett Stowe

Photo: Rennett Stowe


Last week, I realized I lost a lot of images in my blog conversion. It was an awful feeling to scan through my older posts and see years of pictures wiped out. I spent a night feeling pretty devastated.

But the next day, as I scrolled through old blog posts looking at the damage, I couldn’t help but look at the other things too, like all of these words I’ve worked so hard to write week after week, year after year. All these stories, memories, and ideas. How much my kids have changed. How much I’ve changed.

So often we don’t take these moments to pause and reflect on how we’ve evolved and where we’re going. We keep navigating forward, one foot in front of the other, without stepping back to reflect, analyze, brainstorm, and strategize.

That’s why I’ve decided to see The Case of the Missing Photos (Have I mentioned Ezra is crazy about mystery novels right now?) as a message to do just that.

So for the next two weeks, I’ll be taking my own little managing retreat to think about my business, my writing, and my short and long term goals. I’ll be pausing, relaxing, breathing, and planning.

It feels like the perfect time to think about the future and growth, with the sun shining and the flowers and trees just starting to come to life here.

As for all of those lost images, I’ve thankfully recovered quite a few and have some tricks to pursue for the rest. I’m ever hopeful, and I’ll see you back here in a couple weeks!

Have you taken time to pause, relax, breathe, and plan lately? Do you need to? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

13 Aha Moments in 2013


In 2010 and 2012, I shared the magic moments when I heard or read something that surprised or inspired me. Moments that made me say, “aha.” As we say farewell to 2013, I have 13 more for you:

Cooking might be the most important factor in fixing our public health crisis. It’s the single most important thing you can do for your health. – Michal Pollan

The next time you look in a mirror, think about this: In many ways you’re more microbe than human. There are 10 times more cells from microorganisms like bacteria and fungi in and on our bodies than there are human cells. – Rob Stein

You can find a way to make economic exchange one of the most satisfying, meaningful, and loving of human interactions.” – Judy Wicks

Since there is no “healthy soil/healthy microbe” label that can steer us toward these farms, my suggestion is to ask this simple question: “Does the farmer live on the farm?” Farmers who live on their land and feed their family from it tend to care for their soil as if it were another family member. – Daphne Miller

In Asian languages, the word for mind and the word for heart are same. So if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

“A seed makes itself. A seed doesn’t need a geneticist or hybridist or publicist or matchmaker. But it needs help. Sometimes it needs a moth or a wasp or a gust of wind. Sometimes it needs a farm and it needs a farmer. It needs a garden and a gardener. It needs you.” – Janisse Ray

Thanks to cutting-edge science, we know that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement — giving us the competitive edge that I call the happiness advantage. – Shawn Achor

I melted, and accepted, and only then could I actually enjoy his presence instead of worrying about losing him or changing him. And this, as I’ve learned, is the best way to be. – Leo Babauta

Analysis of the mid-Victorian period in the U.K. reveals that life expectancy at age 5 was as good or better than exists today, and the incidence of degenerative disease was 10% of ours. Their levels of physical activity and hence calorific intakes were approximately twice ours. They had relatively little access to alcohol and tobacco; and due to their correspondingly high intake of fruits, whole grains, oily fish and vegetables, they consumed levels of micro- and phytonutrients at approximately ten times the levels considered normal today. – Paul Clayton and Judith Rowbotham

The findings suggest that job burnout is “a stronger predictor of coronary heart disease than many other known risk factors, including blood lipid levels, physical activity, and smoking. – Anne Fisher

We also know, more definitively than we ever have, that our brains are not built for multitasking — something that precludes mindfulness altogether. When we are forced to do multiple things at once, not only do we perform worse on all of them but our memory decreases and our general wellbeing suffers a palpable hit. – Maria Konnikova

Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing. … Analyses of the results reveal a continuous, essentially linear, increase in anxiety and depression in young people over the decades, such that the rates of what today would be diagnosed as generalised anxiety disorder and major depression are five to eight times what they were in the 1950s. – Peter Gray

The most profound thing I have learned from indigenous land management traditions is that human impact can be positive — even necessary — for the environment. Indeed it seems to me that the goal of an environmental community should be not to reduce our impact on the landscape but to maximize our impact and make it a positive one, or at the very least to optimize our effect on the landscape and acknowledge that we can have a positive role to play. –  Eric Toensmeier

Did you hear or read something in 2013 that surprised or inspired you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Hopeful Weekend Links

weekend links

Mentally Strong People: 13 Things They Avoid – Amy Morin, Forbes Magazine

Make Time for Awe – Cayte Bosler, The Atlantic

Rethink the Bottom Line. Rethink Business – Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

The Peacemaker’s Holiday – Rachel Turiel, 6512 and Growing

This Bike Not Only Stops You From Making Pollution, It Eats It – Betsy Isaacson, Huffington Post

3 Young Wonders Changing the World – CNN

Welcome to New Urban Habitat 2.0


Thanks for your patience. I’m still tinkering, but my big move and redesign is mostly done. If you usually read in a reader, come on over and take a look around!

Last week, we found out what it takes to bring Eugene, Oregon to a standstill. Eight inches of snow and seven days of freezing temperatures. School was cancelled for five days, leaving my teacher husband at home. When I first moved here eleven years ago, I chuckled when we experienced a dusting of snow and everyone panicked and raced home from work.

But this storm was icy, even by Colorado standards. The temperature was nine below zero one morning. Of course, it doesn’t help that the city is ill prepared for snow and ice, so traffic (and sidewalk) conditions were treacherous until the temperature rose.

We did every snow-related activity we could think of. Cross-country skiing around the neighborhood. Check. Careening down steep hills on sleds. Check. Snow angels. Snowball fights. Snow people. And that was just day one.



I should mention that we’re not used to having my husband at home. It’s not that we don’t love having him. It’s just that our routines suddenly seem like a foreign language. Laundry? Nap? Play dates? Deadlines? Work?


It always takes awhile for us to adjust and start getting things done, which usually coincides with his return to work. The good news is, he usually emerges with a special appreciation for the challenges and absurdities of the work-at-home life. “What you do here,” he said on Friday, after filling us in on his first day back at work. “It’s not easy.”

I must confess that as much as I loved gliding through our stilled neighborhood as fluffy snowflakes fluttered down and a layer of white carpeted the houses and towering Douglas firs, I was thrilled to see the green grass and vegetation reappear yesterday. We went on a bike ride to celebrate, with bonus points for anyone who could find one of the last remaining piles of slush to ride through. Perhaps I really am becoming an Oregonian.


Launching the Ed Quillen Anthology


Last week, we launched my dad’s anthology into the world. It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, we started with a huge archive of columns — more than 1500 of them — and created a book. It was quite a journey from there to here, and I’m glad I embarked on it for so many reasons. Most of all, it feels great to honor my dad’s career and preserve some of his writing in a form more lasting than newspaper archives.

Leading and completing a big project, especially one where I got to collaborate with lots of interesting people — has been super satisfying. I got to sharpen lots of skills, including copy writing, copy editing, proofreading, fundraising, public relations, graphic design, and XHTML and CSS coding. I’ve also gotten a lot of practice waiting in line at the post office with two little boys, who strangely transform into bouncing balls of energy the moment they step into public buildings.

After I catch my breath, I’m excited to tackle another publishing project. I’m hooked!

Later this week, my family is heading to Colorado for a couple of book events, including one hosted by the Center of the American West in Boulder. You can learn more about the events and the book here. I’ll likely be away from this space for a couple of weeks. But in the meanwhile, you can find a column by me in Colorado Central Magazine if you live in that area, and look out for the new YES! Magazine to hit the stands. My short feature about Portland’s food carts will be in the winter issue.

Dispatches from Shanghai

My sister Columbine is studying in Shanghai this summer, and she’s been sending me dispatches about the city and culture. I think a lot about urban life, especially how we can create more liveable cities (a new urban habitat, if you will), so it’s fascinating to hear about life in a city of 24 million.

Columbine has traveled extensively in Europe and Latin America, but this is her first trip to Asia. She’s amazed by how clean and safe Shanghai feels:

I didn’t know what to expect from China and Shanghai. I have never been to a city of this size. I certainly have never lived in a city this size. I think I expected to be a bit disgusted, since most large cities have an element of filth. Walls near the train tracks will be painted with graffiti. Sirens will be heard at all hours of the day. Whiffs of open sewer will find your nose. Trash will be strewn about. Shanghai is nothing like that. It is quite clean. Much cleaner than any American city I’ve visited, including small cities like Denver and Portland, and it is much cleaner than New York. I have not heard one siren. I have not seen any graffiti. And the streets are consistently being swept by people in sage green uniforms. It is also the safest-feeling place I’ve ever been.

Another thing she consistently remarks on is how healthy the elderly residents are:

Every morning the parks are filled to the brim with old people doing calisthenics, tai chi, fan dancing, and walking. It brings tears to my eyes and makes me smile. There are parks every few blocks, as most people here live in shantis or apartments and they don’t have lawns or yards as we do in the States, or even shared gardens as you often see in Europe. There is something magical about seeing all of these old people enjoying one another’s company, all in incredibly good health. I have never been to a country where the old people were in such good health.

Chinese culture melds ancient traditions that go back thousands of years, like tai chi and Traditional Chinese Medicine, with cutting edge technology that far exceeds what we have in the U.S.:

The fastest train in the world connects Pudong Airport to downtown Shanghai. It is an electro-magnetic train which reaches speeds of 270 mph. It was dizzying as the landscape whizzed by. I kept wanting to see what China looked like, but it was flying by so fast that I couldn’t get much more than a quick glance. You go 20 miles in less than 8 minutes. It was absolutely incredible.

Have you visited or lived in Shanghai, or another part of China? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Jefferson’s Garden


Photo by stereogab

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” ― Thomas Jefferson

I am happily in a season of gardening right now. We’re enjoying a beautiful, sunny late April here. All of our doors and windows are open, and our garden feels like another room of our house. We weave in and out of it all day, planting, watering, and watching. There’s so much magic happening out there right now.

I’ve also been helping a neighbor in her garden, and I’m learning a lot from her. If you have a little time and the interest, I can’t say enough about pitching in at a garden work party or offering to help a more seasoned gardener. You’ll take home all sorts of practical wisdom, and perhaps some seeds and starts too.

Thomas Jefferson, one of history’s legendary organic gardeners, understood the value of sharing horticultural know-how and plants with his neighbors. Jefferson collected seeds and cuttings from all over the world and reportedly always shared a little with his master-gardener neighbor George Divers. That way, if a plant died in Jefferson’s garden, he could visit Divers for some more seeds or clippings and try again. It was “a great lesson about sharing stuff,” Peter Hatch, the director of the Monticello garden, told The New York Times.

Jefferson’s Monticello garden is a thousand- foot long terrace built into the south side of a hillside. It houses a pavilion “reading room,” a recreation of the one where Jefferson spent many evenings.

Jefferson ate little meat and said vegetables were his “principle diet.” With the help of slave labor, he grew 330 varieties of 89 vegetable species and 170 fruit varieties. He planted lettuce every Monday from spring through fall, including heirloom varieties like Tennis Ball and Brown Dutch, which he apparently ate boiled. (Has anyone tried that?)

Jefferson kept detailed gardening journals, which you can read in his immaculate handwriting here. According to Hatch, Jefferson once wrote that even if he failed in the garden 99 out of 100 times, the one success was worth 99 failures.

When Jefferson retired, he rose with the sun every day and spent his mornings writing letters and working in the garden. “Although an old man, I am a young gardener,” he wrote in 1811 when he was 68 years old.

I have a feeling I, too, will always be a young gardener.

Learn more about Thomas Jefferson’s garden:

Are you a gardener? What are you growing this spring? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Field Notes From a Long Pause

Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment.  ~Henry David Thoreau

“Want to know how many times I’ve seen new parenthood go smoothly?” my midwife asked before Ezra, my oldest son, was born four years ago.

My husband and I exchanged nervous glances and shook our heads.

“Not even once.”

A few weeks later, as we took turns trudging up and down the hallway with a howling infant, meandering around heaps of laundry and leaning towers of bills, we understood what she meant.

Fast-forward three years.

We are seasoned parents. Experts, if you will. Parenthood will surely go more smoothly the second time around, right?

Ahem. Perhaps not.

“The only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering . . .” Ted Hughes wrote in a letter to his son. “That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember.”

He could have been talking about birth, about those first few weeks and months with a new baby. I remember them so fondly, but when I wipe my eyes and really look, there’s a lot of suffering there.

The second birth was more difficult than the first, and while Ezra delighted in nursing, Ira was rather unenthusiastic about the whole ordeal. So, for several long months, breastfeeding consumed our lives. Meanwhile, three-year-old Ezra struggled to adjust to a new sibling, a maelstrom of confusing emotions, and a new daily rhythm with distracted and exhausted parents.

And that’s where I left you all last September to dig in for my long pause.

I didn’t intend to be quiet for quite so long. But it was a year that demanded a certain amount of silence.

It was a year full of joy and sorrow, a year full of living. We welcomed our sweet, watchful, curious, cheerful Ira into our lives. And I lost my father, Edward Kenneth Quillen III, who had a heart attack and passed away suddenly on June 3.

My dad was a loyal reader of this blog, dare I say, my most loyal reader. He often told me that he felt closer to me after I started my blog, that it helped him stay connected to me. And for quite a while after he died, I couldn’t imagine writing a post without him here to read it. But, of course, I know my dad would want me to continue sharing my thoughts and connecting with other people.

The beauty of taking a long, silent pause, even one filled with other writing projects, is that I find myself bursting with ideas again, restored, full of words.

Thanks to those of you who’ve checked in during my sabbatical, left comments, and sent emails. I so appreciate it, and I look forward to connecting with you again in this space. I’m working on a posting schedule that will lend itself to the perfect balance of silence and words.

Happy Holidays!


We are feeling so very fortunate to have a new family member to share this holiday season with. Thank you to all of you who stopped in to read and share at New Urban Habitat in 2011, and thank you for your patience during my longer than expected new baby sabbatical. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to dedicate my energies to home and family for the last several months. However, I’ve missed connecting with you in this space. I hope to be back to more regular blogging in 2012.

Wishing you a merry holiday season and health and happiness in the new year.

Slowing Down

I’m in the middle of two big editing projects at the moment … and we’re just weeks from welcoming a new family member, which adds a few minor things to our to-do list (like coming up with a name, eek!)… so you will notice the posts slowing down quite a bit around here. I’ll be stopping in, though, to share photos and announcements and hopefully some blog posts too. I hope you’re enjoying the long summer days.