Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Read Before SOL Testing

Dear students,

Let me tell you a quick story about my son, Ben. He's in second grade, has big dimples and is super fast. He also dabs so much I had to create a rule: "No dabbing at the table." He is competitive and plays anything and everything with great joy and serious gusto. He's played rugby, run cross country, played basketball and soccer and takes swim lessons because I make him. But baseball is his true love.

Another thing about Ben: He can get really, really nervous. We all do, but whereas you and I might have a few butterflies fluttering around in our stomachs, he's got a massive swarm. And all his faith in himself POOF! disappears into thin air. It's hard to watch as he falls from confident to worried in a matter of seconds.

One more thing about Ben: He's pretty lucky to have a wise big sister named Lorelei.

Last week, before a baseball game, his nerves zoomed in from out of nowhere and took over. As we drove to the game, his dimples disappeared and his lower lip trembled. Lorelei looked at him and asked, "You know what Ms. Logan tells us to do before a test?"

He didn't say anything, but he turned his soggy eyes to her.

"She says to stand up next to our desks and pose like a superhero. She said that tests have shown that kids are more confident and do better when they do that," she said. "Maybe you should try it when you head to the plate."

Ben said nothing.

About an hour later, when the time came for him to grab his bat and head to the plate, Lorelei and I sat and watched him take some practice swings near the dugout. Then he put his bat in his right hand and strode towards home plate. He got to the batter's box and dug his right foot in a little, then placed his left foot. The kid-pitcher looked at him, and Ben looked back.

But then Ben took a step back, out of the batter's box. He put his legs in a wide stance, made fists with his hands and put them on his hips. Ben pulled his shoulders back and puffed out his chest. He lifted his chin another inch and I honestly thought a superhero cape was going to POOF! appear out of nowhere. (It didn't.)

He picked up his bat again and took his stance in the batter's box. The kid pitched, and the ball whizzed by. Strike one. The kid pitched again and WHACK! Ben connected his bat with that ball and it flew. And then Ben flew. His legs pounded towards first base, then rounded the corner to second. He saw that the outfielder was fumbling with the ball and he knew he could outrun the the throw. He had the guts and the confidence to keep running. So he did, on to third, and then he went for it--but the outfielder finally got his act together and threw to home.

But Ben made it first. And that was his first home run ever in a baseball game.



So my suggestion before this little test is this: Stand up, shake off the stray butterflies or whole swarm that might be in your limbs or in your stomach, close your eyes, and embrace your inner superhero. Give me a stance. Maybe one more.

Now sit down and give that test all you've got.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Expectations, and Getting it Right

Expectations are difficult, if not impossible. This is what my best friend and I have concluded in the past few years. It seems difficult, if not impossible, to hope for the best and maybe anticipate a little goodness out of something or someone, without full-on expecting a certain result. And when that result does not happen close to what we've got in our minds or hearts, the bitter taste of disappointment courses through veins, telling us we got that whole hope and expecting thing wrong again.

I seem to be an expert at this hoping-too-much stuff, and that disappointment taste is a familiar, biting shot.

But I think I got it right this time.

I just weathered my first winter here in the Pacific Northwest. I wish I had a dollar for each time a person told me, "Hope you like rain!" when I informed them we were moving out here. We knew 14 months in advance, so there was plenty of time for people to say, again and again, how wet it is out here. Having gone to college out here, I had a good idea about the rain and the mindset it requires.

So I faced the winter like I would face a tough wind: I leaned into it, tasting a lot of that bad weather stuff on my face as I did, but most of it rolled off my coat (purchased at REI, of course, by my husband, so you better believe it was a high-quality one). I faced the winter again and again, usually with the cute rump of a yellow lab trotting in front of me, her tail up and happy, loving being out, not caring too much what the weather might be throwing our way that particular walk. It was still a chance to breathe fresh air, stick up a stick or two, jump up on a neighbor, pee in someone else's yard, and--wonder of all wonders--poop and have her mom pick it right up.

Honestly, I can think of only four or five walks this winter when I was truly miserable. I wore rain pants, my husband's insulated rain boots, a long rain coat, baseball cap and hood to guard against the wet. But I tried to trick myself into thinking they were fun--puddles and a puppy helped.

And suddenly, I find myself here. In April. On the other side of my first winter. My friends keep saying how rainy the winter was--the worst in recent memory. Locals keep grumbling about how bad the winter was--a man on a street corner told me it was like "that one Sigourney Weaver movie when she's taken over by aliens and it won't stop raining."

Um, huh?

Whatever this guy meant, it is Spring. And we made it.

Yesterday as our whole region smiled up at the sun, Sunny and I trotted along the sidewalk, I realized that I finally got this whole setting expectations thing right. I expected gray and dismal and tough, and any time it was not that gray or not that dismal and not that tough, I noted it. And was happy about it. A little celebration, actually. When it went back to gray and dismal and tough, I got into my lean-into-it stance. And the cycle continued--of keeping my expectations realistic and low, but being happy when the weather was better.

There's something to be learned from this. It might take me a few more winters to practice this new skill and carry it into other parts of my life besides walks with my dog. But, I plan on sticking around.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Uni-tasking


Recently, and specifically in Michael Pollan's book Cooked, I heard of this concept called "uni-tasking." I'm sure I've heard it before, but in my busy mom-of-three days when I'm trying to squish together so much in the 24 hours given to me, I'm a multi-tasking monster.

I multitask all day long. I just checked my phone while my computer was downloading the badge above to see what the workout of the day is at my gym. I made a waxing appointment at a few red lights on the way to dropping my kids off at school yesterday. I listened to my audiobook while walking my dog. I talk on the phone while driving. I talk into my phone in the Notes section to write long emails or letters while driving or walking the dog, then I print them out later. I make to-do lists while "relaxing" with my husband at the end of the day.

Writing out that paragraph makes me realize why I--and many others--are so exhausted by the time we collapse into our beds at night. Maybe our poor sleep is due to the habit of multi-tasking: we are doing things even in our sleep, instead of simply sleeping.

On the last day of this challenge, and looking to the month of April and the months beyond it, I think I'd like to slow down as many of us have and reflect or observe or just write a little more than I did this month. I want to focus on one thing and one thing only, allowing my mind to wander a little and daydream, or sit on my porch and look at the Puget Sound for a few minutes every day. I know I should go to yoga, and while it might not work for my schedule right now, maybe I'll practice meditating. I'll start with just two or three minutes. Don't laugh--this sitting still thing is going to be a challenge.

But I like a challenge. And look! I completed this one. I'll commit, start small, and keep going on good and bad days. Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts, and I look forward to seeing you back here next Tuesday!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Answering Josie

I've got a little pen pal relationship with my niece--I'll call her Josie. She and her twin sister, two siblings, giant golden retriever, my sister and her husband live all the way across the country on the East Coast. I can't remember how it happened, but Josie and I have have struck up a serious pen pal relationship.

This week I got two notes from Josie. The second one was just asking me if I got the first one, and the one last week. That's how a lot of her letters are--just short and sweet. Clearly she feels no pressure to write for an hour, describe every minute of her day, or express her inner most feeling to me. She just grabs a piece of stationery (with her name printed on it, a Christmas gift from my sister) and writes a bit. Whatever is on her mind. I love this and am inspired by it, and do it right back.

Most of the time. But the earlier note this week--the one that yes, Josie, I did receive--made me laugh out loud. It included this:
"Grammy said that you have a bunch of muscles. True or False?"
I am excited to answer her. She just turned ten and is has begun puberty. While we all know we're not supposed to compare, Josie has a twin that is shaped like one of the pine trees around our house. Tall and straight, with straight and long brown hair. They are not identical; Josie is rounder and paler with adorable freckles all over her face and curly red hair.

So I think the fact that yes, Josie, I have a bunch of muscles, might be a relief to her. Quick background on the muscles: I Crossfit four to five times a week and have been doing so for almost five years. I do Olympic weightlifting with pretty heavy weights and can do pull ups and other "gymnastical" as my trainer says stuff like bar muscle ups and one legged-squats. I am super close to being able to walk on my hands across the gym floor...my best is three feet. My shoulders and biceps are--how can I say it?--ripped. Swoll. Strong.

I have muscles because I like to push my body and test my body, I'm going to tell her. I am proud of all the things my body can do, and I like to keep the focus on that main purpose of my body--it's not just a thing to hold clothes on. And while I like the fact that I can do thrusters and burpees faster than most men in the class, I love that I can jump into a parents versus kids basketball game with Ben and keep up with him and his teammates. I love that if Lorelei's pony is being naughty, I can hop on and remind her how to transition to a canter nicely. I love that if my kids and the neighbor kids ask me to go for a run, I can stop what I'm doing and run a mile and half with them.

The purpose of muscles is to participate in a wide variety of things, Josie, and to be strong and capable. I've got to just point out how un-fun the opposite of that is: fragile and incapable. I hope you always are those things, Josie. Strong and capable. Achieve that how you want, but be that, for sure.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

All I Really Want Is a Horse

Obsession [uh b-sesh-uh n] 

the domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.



When I was a child, I had one obsession: horses. Every story I wrote, every picture I drew, every dream I dreamt involved a horse. My friend Nikki was just as horse-obsessed as I was. When she'd come over to play, we'd put up jumps all around the living and dining room in our house and jump around on all fours again and again, pretending to be a different horse each time. My sister really liked horses, but she managed to think and do other things that didn't involve horses; sometimes I found it difficult to relate to her balanced approach to horses.

My sister and I (and my friend Nikki and her sister Heather) were lucky girls because our parents paid for our horseback riding. I began taking lessons in second grade and walked and trotted and cantered until I got to fourth. At that point, we moved from Georgia to Hawaii, where there was a barn near the beach. That was fine for awhile--can't believe my parents drove all that way nearly every day--but then we found a barn closer to us.

Me & Flashdance,
at Wheeler Army Air Force Base, circa 1988 
And then we found Flashdance. His owner was heading to college but leased him to me. Please, who am I kidding? My parents paid for him, but it was me who rode him almost every day. Flashdance was a great backyard horse who I curry-combed until his coat shone in the Hawaiian sun. I braided his mane and tail for fun, and also for the horse shows we entered. I bathed him, I picked up after him, I made sure the the tack that sat on his body was very clean.

The hours I spent away from the barn were just as horse-filled. I flipped through catalogs dreaming of stuff I could buy in our color--hunter green. Necessity wasn't required; if the gear looked cool, I wanted it. I bought magazines and read them and books to learn more, learn everything I could about horses.

Still, Flashdance wasn't mine. While I fully appreciated that he was basically mine, the thing was, he wasn't. My friends Nikki and Heather owned their horses. My parents even bought my sister a horse (for $1! then the people bought him right back when we flew off the island for good). I really wanted to own Flashdance. Or another horse. Okay, any horse.

I never got to, and my childhood was still pretty blissful without it. But now, at 40, watching my daughter ride and riding once again, I would love to have a horse of my own. Though he would never articulate it, I know he believes love is finite, and the love I'd pour into the horse would mean even less love for him, and he already gets too little after three kids and a cute puppy.

But you can't logic away an obsession. And I've still got it. Because aren't we all just rehashing our childhoods in one way or another?


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dear Cleaning Team

To the people cleaning my house today:

First, I know I'm paying your company a hefty sum for cleaning my house, but I just want to say I'm really grateful that you are here helping me keep my house clean. If it wasn't for you, I would definitely not bother to move the clutter that seems to gather on its own. Thanks for pushing me to do just that.

A note on the big bundle of sheets and blankets and quilt that is balled up in the hallway: Last night my son came into my husband's and my room complaining of an upset stomach. Because my husband is traveling and I love the excuse to cuddle with my always-growing kids, I invited him into our bed. That turned out to be a pretty stupid move, because he threw up on everything within a five feet radius just ten minutes later. Nothing was left unscathed. The sheets, the pillows, the blankets, the wall, the quilt, the floor, the lamp, the nightstand. It was a puke fest of the nastiest kind.

I know you all are too young to be parents, but let me assure you that even if you love your kids as much as I do and are empathetic and sympathetic to their ailments and heart aches, their vomit still makes you retch a little.

And, remember that note about my husband traveling? Right. So I did all the clean up. If I left anything, please forgive me. And wash your hands as many times as I did so we stop the germs with Ben. Because, you know, I've got two other kids and if Ben is just the first in our family of five to get this...we're doomed. Do you know what the puke bug does to families? Nothing good. Nothing good at all.

The other thing about the timing is that we'll now be in the house when you're here, which I really don't prefer. We'll be in one part of the house while you're cleaning another. And when I say "we" I also mean my young dog who will likely bark and be high-energy the whole time...while at the same time my son Ben will need to rest and be low-energy.

And then there's me--I'm utterly exhausted, having hardly slept because after the clean up I had no other option but to sleep in a bedroom that still smelled like vomit. I've left coffee beans on my night stand to try and absorb the smell a bit, and I will open the windows in the afternoon if the weather warms up like it did yesterday. If I'm still in my pajamas after dropping off my other two kids at school and taking my dog to the dog park so Ben can sit in the car while Sunny tires herself out...please don't judge me. Throw me a sympathetic look and I'll leave a bigger tip.

Because I'm really grateful you're here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

So. Very. Close.

In April of 2014 I wrote a 10,000-ish word chapter book. I woke up every morning and typed out one short chapter, the story flowing out of me fairly easily most mornings. Other mornings, I would maintain my promise to write a chapter, even though I knew it wasn't awesome and it'd need to be heavily revised.

Fast forward to today, and this same manuscript has gone a few radical revisions, has been shown to two different critique groups, has traveled to an intense writers workshop down in California where it was shown to and earned some praise from writers and agents and editors. Everyone had comments on how it could be improved, should be improved, but they all thought it had real potential.

Over the weekend I outlined what I would need to do in order to submit it to my first choice agent by my children's last day of school. From that deadline I drew others: when to get it back from my mother to do a final out-loud read, when it send it to my mother for copyedits, when to get the first ten pages to my critique group, what weeks I would have to insert all of the feedback they gave me on the last version of the manuscript.

It's grown to 15,000 words, and it has matured in the years since I wrote that first draft, and I am very hopeful that it is the key to finally getting an agent. The picture book manuscripts that are growing dusty on my virtual shelf were and maybe still are good, but not good enough. I know it's the pressure of being this close and being this hopeful that has me looking for other things to do in my schedule.

But this is it--these next few days I've got to keep these slices short and focused so I can sit and focus on my chapter book, making sure the characters are full and funny, that each sentence moves the plot along, that each scene is interesting and page-turn-worthy.

Keep your fingers crossed for me (please)!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Happy to be Here,

A teapot involves too many steps for me, especially on days like today. I just filled up the big, giant mug my cousin painted for me this summer at the pottery place in our little downtown. After three minutes, the microwave told me the water was hot enough. I don't care about the specifics; I'm hardly picky about how hot it is or how long the tea steeps. Sometimes I end up forgetting about it and have to reheat it hours later. No matter. I still drink it.

I'm just happy to have finally made it to this drinking tea part of my day. It's been a long one, filled with sullen anger from my husband, which led to an ugly argument before he went out the door on a trip for work for most of the week. Sigh. That left me crabby and angry with three little kids on a cold, drizzly day. Suffice to say it wasn't my most stellar mom day, but I managed to play a few fun Uno games, make homemade muffins for Ben's baseball game, and feel grateful for that game, which pulled me out of the house and out of my witchy mood.

And now it's evening, and my kids are chomping on apples while they wind down and watch Odd Squad before heading to bed. I'll visit their rooms one at a time, padding along in my ugly but warm and comfy Ugg slippers, carrying my big mug of tea. First I'll read two picture books to Kiefer, then I'll read a handful of poems from Kwame Alexander's The Crossover, and then I'll head downstairs to Lorelei's room where I'll finish my tea and a chapter of Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

And then, the house will be quiet. I'll walk Sunny one more time and head to bed early. I'm already looking forward to Monday morning. I love Mondays--a fresh new week, a fresh new day, a fresh new start. It's like a reset button.

See you then.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

On Being Interviewed by Ben

My son Ben is in second grade. His class is doing a project for Women's History Month that involves interviewing special women in the students' lives. Last week their homework was to interview one special woman. I was very pleased that Ben chose me (though, let's be honest, he procrastinated until the last day and I was really the only over-18 woman around to interview!).

The questions were simple:

  1. What are you most proud of?
  2. What has been your biggest challenge?
  3. What words of advice do you have for young girls?
Simple, but they stopped me in my tracks. My mind raced to the adult answers to these questions, and as I stared at my 8 year old, I had my own question in my mind: How honest should I be? I had to stall a little, pretending that I had to do one more thing in the kitchen before sitting down to chat with him. My mind raced a little, searching for the appropriate, yet still honest, answer for him.

I settled on these answers, which were probably full paragraphs when they came out of my mouth, but succinct (slightly lazy?) Ben shortened them to a sentence or two:
  1. My mom is proud that she learned to speak Thai fluently in the Peace Corps.
  2. My mom's biggest challenge is staying patient and calm as a mother.
  3. When you're young, you might want to hide your differences so you blend in. When you're older, you realize these differences are the things that make you special.
But the questions rolled around in my head for hours afterward, and I think they (and the fact that I was thirsty from only drinking wine, not water, when we went out last night) woke me up way too early this morning. I woke up thinking of my grown-up answers to them. Here they are...as you can see, they are a little longer!
  1. I'm proud that I'm still married after going through some really tough years. I'm proud that I kept my promise to stay committed to my husband despite having what some might argue were reasons and opportunities to leave. I'm very proud that we will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary in two months. We're a work in progress, no doubt, but I'm proud of sticking it out.
  2. My biggest challenge? Two things: First, in coming to terms with where I am in life. Accepting the fact that I am a writer who has published essays but is still working on getting a book out. My main focus is my children and their health and development, so a lot of my time is spent in the kitchen, shuttling them to activities, and spending quality time as a family. Second, letting go of resentment. Forgiving things that should be water under the bridge by now, but...I'm really good at recycling grievances.
  3. Believe in yourself, believe in your own worth, believe that your dreams are possible. Work hard to achieve the things you really want. Be humble to the process. Hold your head up high even though you will, inevitably, make mistakes.

What about you? How would you answer these questions? What are the first answers that jump to your mind?

Friday, March 24, 2017

I Should Read Less

I know everyone's goal is to read more, but I think I should do the opposite. For the past three years, one of my new year's goals is to read 100 books. As a stay-at-home writer and mom of three children, that's an ambitious but achievable goal. After reading Stephen King's invaluable On Writing, I added audiobooks to my daily routine and found that this was the way to achieve my goal almost effortlessly.

About four years ago, our local librarian showed me how to download the Overdrive app that allowed and still allows me to borrow audiobooks from the library. Like my beloved physical hold shelf, I can put books on hold and wait for months while also searching for a book that was "available now." I loved it: I could plan ahead and get instant gratification.

Pretty soon, I was never without words. And that's still the case now. I listen to books while shuttling from drop off to pick up and all the errands in between. I listen to books while I do all those mindless things around the house: cleaning up the kitchen, folding the laundry, picking up the piles of clutter, sweeping the floors. I got headphones and began listening to books while walking my pup. Every now and then, when I was at the very end of a book or listening against the hard deadline of a due date, I would put in my ear bud and listen while others were around. During our summer road trip, I listened to the end of the wonderful The Nightingale while my husband drove through Utah and my kids watched a movie in the back. But mostly it's just me and the audiobook. We were pals.

Then, last week, while listening to the extraordinary Cooked by Michael Pollan, I had a bit of a revelation. In the book, he writes (or, in my case, spoke about--I really love it when authors read their own books, by the way) how chopping onions and garlic and other vegetables as prep for a slowly-cooked meal was a great way to daydream.

Daydream? Huh?

Upon reflection, I realized that audiobooks shaved off my time to daydream. And I think, years ago, that was the point. At the time, my husband and I were slugging through some murky crap because and in addition to the fact that I was personally at a difficult time in my life. As I looked back and saw the point at which I started listening to audiobooks almost compulsively. I think I filled my head with words and stories from somebody else because I didn't trust my own words and thoughts. At this point in my life, the thoughts always spiraled downwards into some dangerous, negative abyss.

Interestingly, it was also at this point in my life when I stopped running long distances--mostly I did that because of an injury to my foot, but the short and intense, group (read: with friends!) Crossfit workouts were a good replacement for long, solitary, thought-filled runs.

Want the good news? I think I'm okay to daydream again. I think I'm okay to let my thoughts drift as they will. I think I'm okay to turn off the audiobook and listen to my own story again, at least some of the time.




P.S. In case you're in the market for a good audiobook, here are some of my absolute favorites:

  • Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
  • Yes, Please! by Amy Polhar 
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan (middle grade)
  • Gooney Bird Greene series by Lois Lowrey (middle grade)
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
  • Cooked by Michael Pollan
  • Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Working Through a Mood

My youngest son, Kiefer, has a sunny personality. He charms everyone he meets with his precocious words delivered through his toothless lisp and slightly mischievous expression. His teachers report he's a joy to have in the classroom; his coaches nod in approval at his hard work and hustle and good attitude on a field or court.

But the past two afternoons when I've picked him up from school, he's been nothing like his usual self. He's been a storm cloud of a child, complaining of the after school snack, crying about being dragged to whatever activity we've got scheduled that day, and falling apart if one tiny thing goes awry. I think he's got a little cold, I think he's going through a growth spurt so is hungrier than usual, I think he's just five years old.

I'm not sure which day was worse--Tuesday or yesterday--but yesterday we at least came home after school. A nice treat in our baseball-filled schedule! But getting yesterday what he wanted on Tuesday did not soften or brighten Kiefer's mood. Nope. He was a total grumpus. He didn't want to paint with his siblings and neighbors. But when he finally did, and when his big sister accidentally touched him with the tip of her brush, he ran to his room in hysterics. He didn't want to go outside to play, nor did he want to do extra chores to earn money for a baseball backpack his big brother just bought for himself. He didn't want to play with the puppy or build with Legos. He didn't want to read books or do something with stickers.

It sure seemed all he wanted to do was bug the bejeezus out of me.

But then I started making dinner. Out of my three helpful kids, Kiefer is the most helpful in kitchen. I showed him the balls of pasta dough I mixed earlier that were resting on the countertop. All by himself, he got out and clamped the pasta machine onto the counter and sprinkled flour over the dough balls.

We had six little rolled of pasta and he insisted on cranking out all of them. That means he cranked each of the rolls four different times, making the long strips of pasta thinner and thinner with each crank. The first run through the machine is seriously hard work, but he grunted "I can do it" as he cranked. And he could! He laughed at how long they became, marveled how one twisted itself inside the pasta machine and became "L-shaped," and loved sprinkling flour on each pasta after it was rolled out. I asked my daughter Lorelei to come take a picture of us, working together to make dinner:



By the time the pasta and accompanying meatballs were cooked, Kiefer was a different child. By doing something important. He and I watched humble dough balls transform into pasta and created a nourishing dinner for his family. This made something inside Kiefer relax a little, soften a bit.

There's some magic in every mother's kitchen, and there's no doubt in my mind that I witnessed some in mine last night. After an hour of grumpy, frustrated back-and-forth conversation between me and my son, we came together as a team to make food from scratch. And then, we sat down together and ate it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Neighbors and a Humpback

Last summer, we traded in our private, deer-visited, woodsy home in Virginia for a home on the edge of a small town just north of Seattle. We got lucky and found a house that looks out on the vast, blue, ever-changing Puget Sound. Between our backyard and that body of water sits two train tracks. Throughout the day and throughout the night, Amtraks zip and coal-holding cars chug along. It takes some getting used to but we love that these trains are part of our life.

The trains are mostly charming and the water is mesmerizing, but there's one more thing I love about our home: neighbors. We got lucky in that respect, too. We live in a community where half of the population is over 60 years old. But right next door to us--together with their 60ish year old grandparents--lives a family with three young children. Their two boys are about the age of our two boys, and the four run from one house to another, one yard to another, one family to another. (We each have a girl in the family, but mine is the oldest, and theirs is the youngest, so that match up doesn't work quite as well.)

We borrow sugar or oatmeal from each other, we bring flowers over for a birthday, their (homeschooled) boys come over and ask if they can play with our puppy when my children are in school (always, always I say yes).

Yesterday I received a text almost simultaneously from the grandmother and the mother saying, "Kate! There's a whale! Are you home?" I dropped what I was doing and ran outside to find the grandparents and oldest boy staring out into the Puget Sound. It was a gray day, but the water was a blueish-gray and the sky was a light gray, and the clouds threatened rain all day but only spat out some drizzles every now and then. That didn't matter much, because spotting a whale was worth the wet.

The four of us, joined by the mother a short while later (who had been watching from inside) stood outside together, chatting but keeping our eyes trained to the water, trying to spot the whale again and again. We agreed it was a humpback, we agreed it was lingering more than we'd expect, and we agreed it was awesome.

For me, this whale-spotting is magical because they live in a whole, complicated, mysterious world so near to our home. There's still so much we don't know about them, and yet humpbacks have been part of humans' history for thousands of years. When this humpback surfaced yesterday, she was visiting our known world for a few seconds before returning back to hers. I was awestruck in that moment, when we were both in the same world.

But I think that's the same feeling I have towards my neighbors--I am old enough to know that there is a whole lot I don't know about other people's marriages and a family's inner workings that goes on behind closed doors. I respect those closed doors; I have them myself. But maybe that makes these moments when our families come together and look out and share a laugh over a backyard fence just as special as spotting a humpback. And when these two moments come together--AH!--well...that's downright heart-warming.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Applesauce

My husband prizes efficiency above most everything else. Couple with the fact that I cook a ton for our family of five, he encouraged me to give Amazon Fresh a try. I ordered groceries online in Virginia, but never had them delivered to me. He was right--it was worth a one month trial at the very least. I've done four orders in two weeks and I like many things about it, but one of the difficulties of ordering online is making sure I know exactly what I'm ordering. I take responsibility for my mistakes--I'm always ordering groceries late at night when I should be asleep, and I don't pay as much attention as I should.

That is how I ended up with not five Fuji apples but five bags of Fuji apples. Fifteen pounds in all.

My son Ben and I love apples, but...that's a lot of apples! I gave a bag to the neighbors and brought half a bag to our barn for the horses and ponies and riders, too. But that left me with three bags of wonderful apples that I did not want to waste.

What's a girl to do? I made applesauce.

I've tried it once before and my children, then just two of them and a lot younger, didn't love it. I was bummed and probably ate it all myself rather than throw it away. But I'm listening to (and loving) Michael Pollan's Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. The story of the book is how he's taking the responsibility for feeding his family back from the manufacturers and restaurants and placing it in his own hands. Early in the book he talks about how we rely on others to make food for our children, but we should make it ourselves.

The book is very inspiring, so I pulled our slow cooker out and starting peeling apples. I peeled a dozen, having fun while attempting to peel the entire apple without sliding my knife in but once. Twelve tries, I got it once. I sliced the apples, added 1/2 cup of water, and set it to low. These apples would cook for six hours; they would be ready right when my boys' baseball game (for the youngest) and baseball practice (for the older) finished. When we got home from our respective baseball diamonds--this simultaneous game/practice meant my husband and I had to split up, I'd add cinnamon, vanilla, and a little honey.

My plan worked even better than expected. The temperature dropped from mid-40s to low-40s while we were all outside, and while we ate an early dinner at home, everyone was a little hungry and a lot cold. The smell of my warm applesauce met us at the door. The kids showered and grabbed bowls, loved the fact that I added vanilla right to their individual bowls, and they ate it up. Cinnamon-y and rich, I was blown away by how much better this stuff tasted than the mash-ups my youngest son eats almost every day. (He didn't try my applesauce, but two out of three kids liked it--which is normal and fine for this first time!)

Like Pollan, I like the idea of slowly taking back the reins from those companies I outsourced. I'm inspired by his words and ready for his challenge: cook at home a little more than you do now.

Click HERE for the applesauce recipe I used in case you want to try it!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sesame Chicken Wings

Light years ago before I had children, when I was a child myself, my parents asked me to cook for the family. The details are fuzzy. Was it once a week? Did they supervise at all? Was I in the fifth or sixth grade? Questions abound, but I remember exactly what I made: sesame chicken wings. Every time.

Sesame chicken wings was probably not the nutrient-filled meal my mother wished I would make. In fact, I don't recall serving anything with the sesame chicken wings. Every time it was my turn to make dinner, I got out the chicken wing packages and patted them dry. I lined the cookie sheet I used with tin foil for an easier clean-up. Then, I know I dredged them in some combination of ingredients. Soy sauce must have been one, maybe flour and honey as well...? That sure seems like an odd combination now that I'm writing it out. I remember sprinkling sesame seeds on top. And into the oven they went! I flipped them once halfway through the baking time. That I am sure of! At least it makes sense that I would...

Thinking back on this early cooking memory, the questions make me chuckle. The fact that my family ate these again and again makes me appreciate them a little more. But the biggest thing is how grateful I am to have this memory. Thank you, mom, not just for reading this slice like I know you will, but for also putting me in that kitchen and letting me make whatever I felt confident making. And for eating it--again and again and again! Maybe the fact that I'm a confident, fine cook now is because of this early, positive experience in the kitchen.

I was talking with a girlfriend last night who said that her cooking skills are nonexistent because her mother shooed her and her five siblings out of the kitchen when she cooked. And her mother cooked food to feed her kids--but without curiosity, joy, or any love of the process of cooking. My friend said that she never wanted to go into the kitchen after a while because it was full of sighs and slamming pots.

With three school age kids, I realize that the choices I make regarding what I cook for them (yesterday I wrote about sugar) definitely matter. But there's more to it than that. How do I cook? What do I show them about the process? Is my kitchen a place they want to be? And, the biggest question: how do I involve them? Over the years I've answered this in a variety of ways, and there are plenty of other moms who take pictures and blog and write cookbooks about this subject. They've inspired and, when I get tired of the mess, reinsured me to get my kids to help cut and create, roll pasta and of course bake. It seems silly to be thinking of the time when my kids cook for themselves when they are so young now, but I want them to be confident, creative, curious cooks.

And, because I think it's funny, I think I might make sesame chicken wings again soon. Albeit a tastier recipe, and served with heaps of vegetables and rice, too. (My favorite recipe is Smitten Kitchen's sticky sesame chicken wings...)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Case Against Sugar

I just finished listening to the audiobook The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes. I hope my children enjoyed their last cookie yesterday.

Okay, okay. Even though I can and sometimes do employ the strictest no-sugar, nothing-processed diet on myself, I've yet to make it more than a few weeks without a "cheat meal." If it's tough for me to resist the sugary options in this American life of ours, it's nearly impossible for them. I believe with my whole heart the right diet is: mostly vegetables, lots of lean protein, some nuts and fruit. I have always, since they first lifted solid foods to their own mouths, given food to them in this order. By the time they got to the grain option I usually gave them--bread, pasta, rice--they were already full of what I considered the best stuff.

But now they're in school. And sports.

This next chapter of healthful eating involves more sugar than I would like. And it all adds up: popsicles during cross-country practice, a brownie for Sadie's birthday, a cupcake because it's the last math team, a Gatorade handed out by Brody's mom after the basketball game. How do I manage all these sweets?

I'm open to suggestions, so if you've got 'em, please use that comment box below!

I realize I'm not the person who should be listening to The Case Against Sugar. There are millions of Americans who are completely ignorant of how sugary drinks and meals can affect their health. I can't reach them, but I can affect my three children and my husband, who, unfairly, is the only one who is allowed to break the no-juice rule in our house. (Hmm. This one is going to be a toughie.) I think I've got to ban Gatorade, which is something I've said for years that no child or adult needs to drink. And juice...never? Once a month?

However, I think the school is my second step. Dare I become a no-sugar or low-sugar advocate and start a campaign to ban birthday snacks in lieu of a birthday announcement or a special book being read? Dare I become That Parent who suggests all-fruit frozen popsicles rather than the cheap, sugary ones?

A commitment to healthy living is a challenge, but I am hugely committed to my children's growing bodies and healthy habits. But I can't go totally overboard because at some point they're going to have to navigate these choices by themselves...

(to be continued! as I ruminate on this!)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Where I Want to Travel

My daydreams are of Cuba.

This really makes no sense whatsoever. My puny Spanish vocabulary has been overwhelmed by my Thai, and the short conversations I have with the men who work at our barn are chuckle-worthy at best. They show tremendous patience as I stumble through the simple sentence I'm trying to say.

And Cuba is now thousands of miles away--even farther now that we live in Washington. There are other places that I could go that would be as or nearly as exotic. I haven't looked into this cockamamie idea far enough to know the travel restrictions, but I'm guessing they are trickier today than they were last year.

But Cuba is still in my thoughts, I think for four reasons:

First, I was a political science major in college and have a graduate degree in international relations. Though its focus was Southeast Asia, a place I know a whole lot more about, I'm intrigued by how the politics in Cuba affected its people. I should read more about this (recommendations, anyone?).

Second, I love how Cuba seems to be stuck in the past. As a Luddite who eschews most things digital for our children and as a person who doesn't want the latest phone or remote or whatever cool gadget, it seems natural to be drawn to a place that appears to be living in the past.

Third, almost all the pictures I've ever seen of Cuba involve sun and people bashing in the sun. Now that I live in a rainy climate, I'm not overlooking the fact that places with a lot of sun look mighty attractive to me now. Plus, I love hats, so having a chance and a place to wear those sunny-weather, dapper hats is always a bonus.

Fourth, and biggest reason: I want to go with my best friend, who is half-Cuban. Growing up visiting her house, I heard the crazy Spanish flung around by her mother and her sisters, and was told how Stacey's grandmother had a bottle of champagne waiting, for when Castro died. I should know more about their story, how they got here, and I'm sorry to say I don't. But exploring this small country with my best friend beside me, spending hours walking the streets, soaking up a different culture with my very best friend is the stuff of dreams. In my case, my daydreams.

Now I've got to figure out: how can I make this happen? Now that I've yanked my daydream from my brain and put it into words, now that I've written this slice and put my wishes out there in the universe...this seems to be a logical next step. There's got to be a way. Right?

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Art of Being Sexy

My husband is urging me to be a little sexier.

It's hard for me not to sigh when typing this. I know his words come from the intention of capitalizing on our fleeting youth and fantastic health. He loves me, but he loves my body a little less when it's covered in exactly what I'm wearing now--a too-big-for-me sweatshirt and comfortable Athleta warm-up pants. I want to be a good, fun partner and jump to his suggestions and encouragement.

But the truth is, I'm comfortable in this outfit. I live in this type of clothing because I want to be the type of mom who can jump onto the court and play basketball with one son, like I did last night. Or help my daughter brush and tack up her pony without the excuse of, "I don't want to get these shoes dirty." I feel like I'm at the age where I rarely want strangers' attention on bright lips, tight clothes, and heels that are going to hurt my feet anyway.

However, I want to trust him a little, tip-toe a few inches out of my comfort zone, and realize that there's a time to put my mom clothes away. It's good and healthy for me to simply be his partner, his date, his lover and nothing else. I admit that when I do pull clothes from this side of my closet, with silkier fabrics and less comfortable shoes, I also pull a bit of female power that is definitely there and fun to play with. And a little attention from others other than husband won't kill me.

So for our date night this Saturday night I went online and rented a dress from Rent the Runway. Have any of you done this? I urge you to stay far, far away from the site because there are millions of dresses  at affordable rental prices and you'll waste hours scrolling through the options. I say this with experience. I say this as someone who just wasted another five minutes of her life scrolling through Monique Lluli dresses while writing this blogpost. In addition to that guilty dress-shopping experience, I found a dress last week that is, without a doubt, sexy.

It is a simple, black sheath dress that covers everything from my neck to my knees...except for the parts that are sheer. There's a liner for my chest area, but the area above is mesh so that under the black material you can see skin. And then between the chest and my waist shows three inches more of skin underneath. Of course--I'm not a complete hussy--the area between my waist and upper thigh is covered, but then there is six more inches below that where the material shows skin underneath.

I think it's sexy but not overly so. Pushing the envelope while still being classy. Right?

However, I woke up this morning remembering a dream I had. Fact: we're going to a very nice restaurant tomorrow night and I'm planning on wearing this sexy, partly-sheer dress. Yet I dreamt we got to the restaurant and I was the only one wearing a cocktail dress and heels, and everyone else was wearing the normal Pacific Northwest attire--comfy jeans and brown clunkers for shoes, nondescript sweatshirts and surely a rain coat for the weather. All heads turned to me and I felt out of place and uncomfortable!

Is this the adult version of showing up at school without pants?!

Today I might give a quick call to the restaurant to inquire about their tasting menu...and their dress code.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why Moving and a Puppy Go Hand in Hand

Last Spring, we prepared for our cross-country move by closing ties with people and places in Virginia and maintained a clutter-free existence while our house was on the market. It felt like we were throwing up everything in the air and hoping that it would fall into place sometime in the next few years in a place we knew only somewhat. In the midst of all this, our sweet old dog passed away. It was a blessing and a curse, as most things are in life. My heart had a big, Lulu-sized hole in it and I was ready to leave the house she'd lived in to escape the hurt.

So I got my name on a list for a lab puppy. Right there, in the middle of that messy season, I knew it was the right thing to do.

A rebound relationship of another sort? Maybe, but I know I'm a dog person and having an affectionate bundle of wags that needed me (and I needed right back) was something I believed I needed in my life. The sooner, the better.

After a very exciting and very fun and very big summer, we arrived at our new home in Washington State the third week of July. Just as the dust was settling on my car (it had been in motion for a very long time as we traveled) and our kids got a little taste of the enormity of the task of being "the new kid," we went and picked up Sunny. She was an incredible bundle of wag. Her tail moved nonstop--when she was awake. Every jump and bounce and off-balance run made us all smile and laugh.
Sunny (at two months?) & Kiefer

School began soon after that. After their first day of school--their first day of school as The New Kid--it was Sunny and her wagging tail that met them in the car. (I drove, but they didn't see me or need me in the same way.) It was Sunny who picked them up when they were feeling a little blue. It was Sunny who Lorelei could sit with during early, friend-less afternoons, with the boys out playing with the neighbor boys.

My kids have thoroughly enjoyed Sunny. But between you and me, the puppy was for me. I turned 40 last summer and my youngest went to kindergarten--what a big year! I'm an extravert, and while I like some time pretending I'm an introvert, I knew too much alone time wasn't good for me. I had some college friends scattered around, but not the tight group of moms I could call on during the school day. Or after school. Or...well, anytime. Sunny was not the same as my good girlfriends, but she kept me company, gave me someone to talk to and focus on rather than just myself. I could play with her--I was supposed to play with her!--and she wagged all the more.

Sunny (when she fit in that bed) & me (I still fit in that chair)
And a puppy--especially in those early days when she was just a fluffball--gave us a great excuse to meet every single one of our neighbors. People would drive by, stop and get out, and come pet her and talk to us. She brought smiles to their faces, but their smiles extended easily to us. Soon we knew all the dog names in the neighborhood...and we were working on their people's names.

During Summer, Sunny was up once or twice at night, and I got a big eye-full of the starry sky every night. I was blurry in the morning, sure, but the stars were an impressive silver lining of
losing sleep. Summer turned to Fall and the weather turned from glorious to rainy, Sunny stayed sunny and got me out in the rain, regardless of what I wanted to do. And that, too, has been a good thing.

So...are you moving? Consider getting a puppy. (Although if you're moving somewhere cold in the dead of winter you might want to wait until it thaws!)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Filling My Day

I'm in the process of relooking at my schedule. Trying to reshuffle things to create more time to write. I'm trying to be gentle with myself during this process, because I've been annoyed with how little writing I've gotten done. My mother reminds me that this is my first year with all my children in school...it'll get easier. I dunno. I feel like I should maximize the time now, now, NOW.

But in light of what many of you wise slicers are saying after being inspired by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, I'm looking at my days in a new light. Instead of seeing a steady stream of rousing children out of bed and into bed, shuttling them to and from school and their various activities, Crossfit workouts and runs, and the inevitable appointments that come with being a human and having a home, I'd like to see what I'm actually creating within this list.

Maybe it'll help me see my days a little differently. Maybe I'll focus on the import of these tasks rather than the time they require.

With my children, I am:

  • teaching them about being part of a team
  • challenging their bodies physically (sports)
  • challenging their bodies mentally (math team)
  • showing them they belong in other groups besides their family
  • cheering them on, helping them believe in themselves 


With my Crossfit and running, I am:

  • staying healthy and active so I can live a long, healthy life
  • being an example--for my kids but also my husband 
  • pushing my body to its limits, something I've always loved to do
  • maintaining a good relationship with my body
  • creating space for ice cream as a sometimes-reward


With my house appointments and kitchen time, I am:

  • creating a home, a comfortable, safe space for my family
  • keeping the organization one step over the clutter
  • making food that mostly fuels my family's body, but tastes good, too
  • showing my kids, through chores and example, what it takes to be a family member

I still hope to squeeze out of my week a few more hours of writing. But I've got to remember that I'm creating important stuff here in the other parts of my days, filling it with really good, lucky stuff. There's chaff to cut out for sure, but...there's more grain to keep, savor, and foster.







Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Day Ones

Day Ones are always difficult.

Some years ago, I got most of my writing done (I'm a children's book author and essayist, though I've got nothing published in the former, a handful in the latter) first thing in the morning. My alarm went off at 5 AM, and I dutifully got up, tip-toed downstairs past sleeping children, thanked my lucky stars that programmable coffee makers exist, and sat down with my laptop. I got a lot of work done in that hour. A lot of slices typed out, a lot of picture books edited, and a whole chapter book written.

However, that chapter book is still in progress. I wrote it during Camp NaNoWriMo in April 2014. And it's still undergoing edits big and small.

I'm proud of the manuscript and it's getting there. I'm learning a lot about how to write a book--or at least how to write this book. My old critique group in Virginia and my new critique group out here are pushing me as hard as I need to be pushed, giving me feedback and encouraging me to do it. I am proud at how the book has evolved.

But it's still not done, and I'm hell-bent on submitting it to an agent that I've met and worked with by my children's last day of school. (Summer break has a tendency to not be as productive as I'd like.) That's three months away.

Two days ago, I had to admit that my current schedule was not working. My primary job is stay-at-home mom for my three young kids, and this is the golden year--all my children are in school for the first time all day long. But somehow the hours fill up with errands and appointments and working out, and my writing time is squeezed out. If I want to reach my goal, I need to change something about that schedule.

So here I am. 5:30 AM. My first day of returning to the early-morning writing circle. I'm back, a little blurry-eyed and grateful for that same coffee maker. I'm training my dog that I'm not available for playing, just one-handed pets while both hands aren't employed with a thought or an improvement on my laptop.

The silence is familiar, though, and wonderful. This is going to work!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tsunami

When I was ten years old, my father was stationed at Schofield Barracks, on the island of Oahu. Lucky me spent three years there, soaking up the sun, going through middle school stuff, and exploring the island on which we lived and the others that surrounded it.

One of the "middle school stuff" I went through was my first job: babysitting. I usually babysat for the Kingseed family, who had a toddler boy and a baby girl. They lived three blocks away, so I'd walk to their house, and then Colonel Kingseed would walk me home in the evening when he and his wife returned from their date.

One of the "exploring the other islands" things we did was to go to the Big Island of Hawaii. This trip was an all girls affair--my mom took my sister and her two friends, all freshmen in high school, and my best friend and me. The six of us spent two days and one night checking out a different island, eating pancakes with coconut syrup, pointing out German tourists with black socks and sandals, and laughing like crazy.

One of the more serious things we did--maybe the only serious thing we did--was check out a memorial for those lost in a tsunami. Colonel Kingseed's aunt actually died in it. Though he and his family were not Hawaiian, his aunt was young and adventurous and after graduating from a teacher's college, she took a fun posting in a place far from the Mid-West where she grew up: Hawaii. As a kid, I remember clearly going to a clearing that overlooked a rocky peninsula that jutted out into the blue, blue ocean and having my mom tell me that a tsunami came and swept away the school--and that most of the students and teachers were pulled out into the ocean and never seen again.

I've told this story to my children a handful of times. They listen as rapt as I did--all children have a fascination for the tragic and morbid. I told them the story again a few weeks before we flew to Hawaii--to Maui, not the Big Island--though I tried to leave out some of the core bits of the story as we'd be staying right near the ocean. And we'd be swimming right in the ocean. And tsunamis give me nightmares...

While we were in Maui, my youngest son Kiefer and I went to a bookstore together. He looked at the toys while I looked at the "local" section within the children's books. I pulled out a half dozen or so, but nothing caught my eye. And then I pulled a good-looking hardback book out.

The title was The Tsunami Quilt: Grandfather's Story by Anthony D. Fredericks. I was instantly intrigued. And I flipped the page open to this illustration:
(Look at the name, second from the bottom!)

My mom helped me track down Colonel Kingseed's address, and I will send the book to him, maybe with a copy of this slice explaining an odd coincidence bringing together a remarkable event involving his young aunt.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Stolen M&Ms

Yes, it was me. It was me who opened the bag of trail mix last night in the dark kitchen after everyone else had gone to bed. The crinkle of the bag as I tried to rip it open seemed to threaten to open the eyes of my children despite the many rooms and closed doors between it and them. I had to pull the plastic up slowly, wincing as I did, willing it to be quiet.

I eat very well--what I should, and no more or less than I should--throughout the day. Paleo type of food, with Zone quantities. I've eaten this way since the first of the year, and I've lost 12 pounds. Enough so that I don't feel like I have to ignore these late-night munchie desires every night.

I opened the bag--it precariously sat on the counter, unzipped from top to bottom so that I could pick out the only thing I wanted. I pushed the raisins and peanuts aside and tried to avoid even one cashew. I just wanted to M&M-look-a-likes. I couldn't see the light and dark brown ones in the dark kitchen, only the green, red, yellow, and orange ones. So I gobbled them up, trying to find each and every one of them before...

...and then he shuffled out, just in boxers, looking for me.

Busted.

...before my husband found me, I was going to say. But he did. And one look from him told me that I shouldn't have been doing what I was doing. Sigh. He said nothing, just gave me a Look that was some mix between tired and frustrated and confused. He shook his head and turned around, and walked back to our bedroom, where I knew he thought I should already be.

I found a few more brightly colored M&Ms in the dark before sighing myself, throwing the rest away, and going to bed.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Letters

I spent an hour at the table, writing. Not the normal work on my chapter book or a book review or slice of life for this March challenge. Nope, not today. Today I wrote for an hour, but letters to my family. I am a huge lover of mail and want to keep the art of correspondence alive and well in my own life.

I wrote two letters to my two grandfathers, one 93 and one 88. I stuffed the envelopes full of pictures and described the pictures in the letters. Not shockingly, they are not on Facebook. Or Instagram. Or email, even. So snail mail it is, and printed pictures as well. The old-fashioned way for my old-fashioned grandpas. I hope the pictures of my children, their great-grandchildren, make them smile.

Then some postcards.

One jam-packed one to my niece, who is as avid a letter-writer as I am. She and I exchange at least one letter a week, full of unimportant but wonderful little news such, usually about books we're reading or what our dogs--her, a golden retriever, mine a lab--have picked up on a walk or have gotten into. I love this little correspondence and hope, hope, hope it lasts for a long time.

One to my very best friend, who means everything to me. Just a short one. About a trip I keep daydreaming about that I'd like to take with her. Between her serious job and my trio of kids, I'm not sure when it would happen, but I'd like it to. Very much.

And one to my old critique partner and good friend about a book (A Fine Imitation in case you're curious) that she recommended and that I LOOOOVE. In fact, I've just got one hour left on the audio version of the book and it's killing me not to be listening to it right now. It's full of depth and suspense; the main character Vera's plight strikes a deep chord in me. I had to tell her I'm loving it and thank you for the recommendation.

And now, with cornbread muffins in the oven and cole slaw coming back to room temperature and chicken about to head into the broiler, I've got to head off. Finish up writing for the day.

See y'all tomorrow...

Friday, March 10, 2017

Transitions

Transitions are tough.

I'm not talking about big transitions like moving across the country, starting puberty, having all kids in school all day, getting a puppy. These are transitions that my family underwent in the past months--honestly, I better change that to the present progressive tense. We are still undergoing all these big transitions.

But it's the little transitions that are bigger challenges, at least for us.

Transitioning from sleepy morning mode to ready-for-school mode is a challenge for my kindergartener, and transitioning from rowdy sports time to bedtime is difficult for my oldest son. Transitioning from fourth grade girl to big sister to two little brothers with big personalities is a challenge to my daughter. But the biggest transition that faces me every day is that wonderful yet full few minutes when all three of my kids pile into my car at the end of their school day.

I pull up to their school in a blissful state, having worked out and showered, listening to an audiobook with our dog dozing in the back (because yes, she has to go everywhere with me). I envision us having a wonderful afternoon, usually full of activities but sometimes just full of what's going on right now: my boys are playing with the two neighbor boys and I'm left to write this in complete silence, save for the washer and dryer noises from the other side of the house and my dog's snoring (because yes, she sleeps all the time, lucky dog).

But the moment they see me they start waving, making silly faces, and dabbing to me. I generally turn off my book at this point and turn on the radio. They are excited to watch me pull up, and they do their best to wait a respectful distance from the car before opening the one door through which they'll all pile in.

And then, they get in. And I hear something like this:

MOM WHAT'S FOR SNACK WHY ARE YOU GETTING IN FIRST? IT'S MY TURN--HEY!!!--IT'S MY TURN TO GET IN FIRST. I WANT TO SIT THERE! WHAT'S FOR SNACK? HI, MOM. KIEFER! STOP IT! MOM, LORELEI JUST ELBOWED ME. MOM! BEN CALLED ME A BABY. MOM! KIEFER SAID TRUMP WAS A JERK AND A STUPIDFACE. WHAT'S FOR SNACK? Oh, hi, Sunny! MOM! WHEN CAN WE GO TO THAT PARK? MOM! WHAT'S FOR SNACK?

And POOF my calm day is over. But I'm smiling as I type this because I love it. Mostly.

They are such good students in many ways, but the moment they see me they can just relax after having been good all days. It's as if they've stuffed themselves with holiday treats and can finally open up one button and let it all hang out a little more. They have the challenge of going from good student and recess buddy to son/daughter and member of the family, and that's tricky every day, tough on some days.

But they're mine all weekend, so I'm going to go check on them before starting the transition from writer to cook.

Happy Friday, all.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lunch for One

I eat lunch almost every day alone. I'm a writer, a stay-at-home mom, so most of the hours between drop off and pick up are spent by myself. Because I'm new to the area, I have few friends I can call on to meet for lunch or coffee. Usually, that's okay. Those hours between pick up and drop off (save for most of the hours when I'm asleep--thankfully my kids sleep through the night now) are loud, crazy, full, and busy. All in really good ways. So the hours when those bringers of loud, crazy, full, busy-ness are quiet, still.

Mostly, that's okay.

Today I made myself a chef salad. I tossed romaine with a homemade vinaigrette of red wine, olive oil, and dijon mustard. On top of that I placed rows of the following: blue cheese crumbles, sliced deli turkey, cherry tomatoes, diced avocado, and I even sizzled up a strip of bacon for myself today. It was me and the New York Times Book Review (must finish it before the next one arrives on Sunday). Sunny sniffed at my bacon, but she didn't get any.


I am alone, but am I lonely? So many of my hours are spent alone, but I'm not usually lonely. I listen to audiobook after audiobook to fill the quiet, to keep me company. Sometimes, though, if I can be honest, the audiobooks are a coping mechanism--I'm old enough to be wise enough to know that.

Mostly, that's okay.

It makes the loud, crazy, full, busy hours with my three kids all the sweeter. And it makes the quiet lunches like this one all the richer.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Showers, Then and Now

There once was a bathroom in a small village in Thailand that I called mine. When I think about that bathroom, I have to take a deep breath and smile as I breathe out. My nose wrinkles just a bit. That was a long time ago, and I'm not sure if I could bathe in that bathroom as eagerly as I once did.

My bathroom was actually "our" bathroom, because I lived with a Thai family. While the Peace Corps gave me enough money to have my own house in my little village, I had two options in Fak Tha: the finest house in the entire village, with four rooms (three rooms too many!), or taking over the second floor of the house of one of the villagers. 

Choosing against opulence, I opted for the second.

The second floor of this villager's house was modest. I had the breezy upstairs area of house, with a sweet view of the low mountains and a space large enough to do yoga in. The bedroom was screened in, so I wouldn't have to worry about dengue- and malaria-filled mosquitoes chomping on me at night. But the second floor didn't have a bathroom, so I walked down the wooden stairs when I needed to one. 

The bathroom was a good size by American standards. It was tiled on the floor and up the walls with a pastel blue or green tile--I can't remember the exact hue, only the general one. The toilet was just a ceramic bowl in the floor, with two rimmed, ceramic ledges to remind users where their feet should be planted when they squatted to use it.

Attached to one side of the bathroom was a giant rectangle tub of sorts, built with concrete blocks, then tiled in with the same baby-colored hue. The tub was about three feet by five feet--pretty substantial, and came up to my waist. It was always full. 

Some Peace Corps Volunteers made the mistake of thinking this was a soaking tub, but our trainers advised us of this cultural faux pas and I knew what to do even the first time I entered this bathroom. After removing the pasin, or cloth that all modest Thai women used as a robe of sorts, and hanging it up on a rack next to my towel, I took the plastic bucket that always sat at the hefty rim of the tub, dipped it in the water and poured it on top of me.

No matter how hot it was in Thailand--and it was almost always hot in my little village--that first bowl full of water shocked me. It was always freezing, "refreshing" if I wanted to see the positive side. I washed my body, washed my hair, rinsed it all free of soap and shampoo, toweled off and covered myself with my pasin before going back upstairs to my own space to dress, sometimes throwing on some Prickly Heat powder to cool myself off a little more if it was a particularly hot day.

I think of this bathroom almost every time I step into my opulent shower now, decades later, in the current chapter of my life. I turn on the hot water and am so very thankful that I can linger in this warm respite from the hustle and bustle of my day. I realize I've lost an edge of toughness over the years, and I'm not sure if I could go back and take a bucket bath for two years straight again. But I've gained the appreciation for what I've got, and for that I'll always be grateful for that humble bathroom, thousands of miles away, a million experiences ago.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Soggy Walks

My dog still needs to go out, even when it's raining.

Like this morning. It was a steady drizzle that turned into a steady snow shower, though none of the white stuff stuck to the already wet ground. At just under 40 degrees, it was cold to me, but too warm for snow accumulation.

My neighbors see me in my huge, down, poofy (spell check wanted this to read "goofy," and perhaps that word should be added, too) down coat when the temperature is 50 degrees. Or more, I must admit with a slightly embarrassed squish of my face. I just was not made for cold temperatures. I do it, and I try not to complain, but I do not love the cold.

And I definitely do not love the cold rain.

But I do love my yellow lab; my kids named her "Sunny" after my nephew suggested it. "Sunny" so we'd always have some sun in our new, often rainy, Pacific Northwest life. And she is, to put it mildly, a huge source of joy for me.

Like when we walk in the rain. Sunny trudges on, marching instead of prancing, with her head and tail just an inch lower than normal, which I think means she's doing what I'm doing: gritting her teeth and getting through it. I watch her down near the curb... I love how her back darkens as the rain falls on it, but her belly stays light and mostly dry. I love how her pads flick up water as we walk along the waterfront, trying to appreciate the view that today consists only in shades of gray. I love how her ears lose their fluff and gain a crimp, like my hair when it was cool back in the early '90s.

She trots along, still stopping to sniff intently at this bush or that flower, knowing more than me about who came before us this morning.

Eventually we both march out of our displeasure at being out in this type of weather, and Sunny starts to pick up sticks--the bigger, the better. Or sometimes in a different sort of challenge she'll try to carry three or four in her mouth at the same time. She's a good fort-building partner, this one, if you can get her to give up the sticks.

And I march out of my dislike for this sort of weather and find some peace within it. Knowing that our dry, warm house is just up ahead, just ten minutes away, sure does help.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Fighting the Water

My three children are learning to swim. More accurately, they are trying to become better swimmers. Per our family rule, they need to take swimming lessons until they can confidently swim in the ocean by themselves.

Our oldest, Lorelei, is doing really well. She's got the strongest stroke and is confident in the water, and she's the only one who can tread water at all--and she does it well. She's in fourth grade and leans to less traditional sports such as horseback riding, sailing, and hiking, but she's smart and strong and I think there's more sportiness in her than she realizes. That's okay, it can stay dormant until she wants to wake up that sleeping giant and have fun with it.

Our youngest, Kiefer, has the biggest love of the water. He has always been the most daring, the one who put his head under the most easily when he was just a toddler. In the ocean, he's the one who wants to go out the furthest from the shore (with me and a boogie board) and has to be told it's time to return. He is comfortable, but he's not yet six, so there's a lot of coordination, maturity, and know-how lacking. It'll come.

That leaves our oldest boy, Ben. He is the most athletic of our three children. His moves on the soccer field turn heads. Often parents from the other team stop him or us to compliment his ability to read an opponent's move or slide past a defender. His performance in cross-country this past fall, winning all three of his quarter mile races, blew us and his coaches away. He raced effortlessly and joyfully, finishing strides ahead of the rest of the pack of second grade boys.

But in the water, it's a struggle. He doesn't feel comfortable, and the anxiety that sticks on the bench in other sports tangles around him and weighs him down. Or at least complicates things. Staying calm in the water--which is pretty important!--is a huge challenge. He's really doing great, but watching him swim is a challenge for me. I can feel little drops of anxiety enter my bloodstream as he tries his absolute best to listen to the instructor and figure out how to breath the right way.

I realized while watching him swim last week that he's fighting the water.

I'm not a rock star swimmer but I am confident and capable, and I was watching a show with my husband that involved weight training in the deep end of the pool. The instructor was telling the adult how to maneuver the heavy dumbbells safely. He explained, "You can't fight the water. You've got to work with it."

Honestly, I'm not sure I totally get what he means, but I think that's what's going on in Ben's head in the water.

And my mind drifts from the water to life, and I think that's a struggle for myself and maybe some of you: how much do we fight this life rather than working with the current and accepting it? I think of my grandfather's visit last fall and how this 93 year old man didn't complain once about anything--ANYTHING--while he was here, and how he just moved along effortlessly, happy to be here and happy for the new experiences at his advanced age. He just moved along with the current--my family's current--and went along with it.

Maybe Ben and I both have to move with the water a little more, and we can learn by example from each other, becoming a little bit more comfortable each day. Or, for him, each swimming lesson.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Crab Season

Yesterday crab season started in our neck of the woods.

I don't know this fact because I crab, though my husband did buy a few pots last summer when we moved in. They are stored near the canoe I bought him six years ago that has yet to get wet. He is a lover of the idea of adventures, but often can't find the time and oomph necessary to turn them into reality. We'll get there.

No, I know that it's crabbing season because at breakfast my kids and I noticed a bunch of buoys floating outside our home in the Puget Sound. We didn't see any boats drop them off in the morning, but by the time we looked out, a dozen things bobbing and floating in the water. The ripples of low waves tried to push them, tried to get them to go the way of the waves, but the buoys stayed where they were left, stubbornly guarding some unseen thing below the surface.

In the afternoon, the boats came back for the pots that these buoys guarded. One at a time, a couple of locals on well-loved and well-used boats, the simple kind that provide hours of fun and mountains of memories but probably require more maintenance than I have the patience for, motored to our spot on the Sound.

My youngest son called to anyone who could hear him and no one in particular: "They're coming back for the pots!" He stood there watching as the person on the boat, bundled up with coats and hat and gloves to protect against the cold afternoon, leaned over the boat and grabbed the buoy. He pulled up the attached string, pulling it up with one hand and then the other. A dozen or more birds flapped around the boat, hoping for a free lunch, or at least an easy one. And then, finally, there was a cage, a crab trap I think it's called, and we could see from inside our cozy house that this crab season started on a successful note for that particular crabber.

I made a mental note to not wait too much longer to learn how to go crabbing (without the boat if possible). I scribbled "learn to crab" right next to "learn to fish" because I love the idea of casting a line, catching some fish, and then cooking it for my family. All of these things are in the category of "appreciate where I live."

Even more than I do. Because I really do love this house, this place, this life.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Easy Days

My boys are bored of the barn.

They’d say that out loud if “bored” wasn’t a banned word in our house.

Although my daughter rides twice a week, I require her two brothers to come only on Tuesday evenings. On those days, we rush from school to the barn, my daughter pulling on breeches, boots, and half-chaps in the car. I know these days she can change in front of them are numbered; she’s nearly ten and changing requires at least one hissed “Don’t look this way!”

To the boys, Lorelei does the same thing every Tuesday evening. Same evening. On the same pony. In the same ring. Sometimes the pattern over the poles or fences is different, but to them it looks pretty much the same. And, to use the b-word again, it often looks pretty boring to them. The same could be said of their chosen sport, whatever it is at the moment, but they are each stuck in their own age-appropriate, self-absorbed little world—and horses are only part of their world because their sister rides them. (To be fair, they are pretty good about helping—my five year old can pick hooves like a champ.)

But I ride, too. For better (usually) or worse (sometimes) I know what I’m talking about when it comes to horses.

The beauty of me riding is that I see the subtleties in these Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings. I'm not remotely close to being bored; on the contrary, I love watching Lorelei ride. 

Like all sports, there are so many great life lessons to draw out of horseback riding. One of my favorites is definitely this idea that it sure looks like the same stuff day after day, but somehow there’s a challenge in making the trot a little better, a little more energetic, a little more put together.

As Lorelei moves from walking and trotting, warming up herself and her pony to jumping a course of small, vertical fences at a nice, even canter, I see that it's the sort of day when things are effortless. She's making it look easy out there, keeping her pony cantering through the turns and over the fences with a little stretch over the fence rather than a short, choppy stride that looks and feels ugly. I ride that same pony on Thursday mornings, so I know full well how much leg is required, and I know Lorelei is doing a great job.

Next Tuesday night or Saturday morning the same exact course might be three times as hard. Who knows why? Maybe the pony will be having an extra-lazy day. Maybe Lorelei will be more tired or less patient. Maybe the it'll be raining and the sound of the rain on the tin roof will cause the pony to jump, causing Lorelei to be nervous. Those are all things that Lorelei will have to ride through, just as we all have to ride through the not-so-perfect parts of our life, our days...our hours, sometimes. 

But those days will make days like today, where everything is easy and fun and positive, be appreciated all the more.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Things I Shouldn't Say

Here in Edmonds, Washington, just a dozen or so north of Seattle, rainy and gray and misty and cold are all common words to describe the weather this time of year. But in the summer, glorious sunshine spills down on this part of the world all summer long. "The summers make up for the winters," locals told us when we moved in last summer and remarked on how little it rained as we unpacked boxes, painted walls, and nailed up pictures.

Downtown Edmonds is a neat little town with quirky shops and great restaurants. Edmonds is known as an artsy town, with art walks and artists painting on the street corners once a month. Also, there are several bronze statues scattered throughout the town.

My family's favorite is a sweet statue of a young girl. Her toes are firmly planted on the ground, but the rest of her reaches up, towards the sun that seems to be appreciated more in this part of the world than any other. Her arms are outstretched, and her face smiles with delight, totally caught in a moment all of her own. There seems to be some wind with which she's dancing and that, in return, seems to dance through her hair and skirt. The sculpture and its effects are uplifting.

It is called "Joie de Vivre;" artist David Varnau wanted the piece to reflect "the moments in our lives when all is well, our senses are heightened, and we feel the grace of being alive." Such a beautiful tribute and addition to an already great small town.



Now that you love this piece almost as much as I do, I must confess what I should not have said.

A few months ago, while my kids and I hustled in a gray drizzle past this joy-filled girl, I couldn't hold back my adult sense of humor. It's my dad's family's sense of humor--definitely snarky, often biting, and one that I've tempered with maturity and kindness and some grace. Tempered. Not erased.

"I wonder if she has underwear on," I said. Out loud.

SHOOT. No, no, NOOO.

Did I just say that out loud?

Enter the fact that I have one girl and two boys--and the two boys are of perfect rascal age: 8 and 5. If I had thought for a micro-second before letting those words come out, I could easily have predicted what they would do--what they MUST do because they are little boys for crying out loud: they had to run up to her and look up her skirt.

I just want to say, for the record, I'm sorry.

I'm sorry because now EVERY SINGLE TIME we pass this sweet bronze statue they have to run up and look up her skirt. I've explained to them how that's wrong, I've told them not to, I've walked on the other side of the street to avoid it. I'm doing my best to say how wrong it is to do this to any girl, whether bronze or not.

Sigh.

Definitely a parenting fail on my part. I'll do better next time to stop those words from coming out of my mouth. Truly.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Maui in a Day

Last week I called my mom while vacationing with my husband and our three school-age children. After moving from the East Coast to the West Coast to an area known for its gray, rainy winters, I lost the argument about if we should go to Hawaii. I spent three years of my own childhood in Hawaii, and while I was eager to show my children a place for which I had such fond memories, I wanted to be sure they were old enough to remember such a grand vacation and mature enough to handle the time zone changes and appreciate the vacation. I also don't want them to grow up spoiled, so I'm always inclined to go simple while my husband wants to go big.

But my husband and children won this time; we spent their mid-winter break on Maui, soaking up the sun, spending lazy hours on the beach and in the pool, taking a break from our busy American pace, and eating amazing food.

"Mom," I started on this particular phone call, "When we lived here, why didn't we do a whale watching tour?"

I remember visiting Maui when I was ten years old--exactly 30 years ago.  But I know we didn't go see the humpback whales, which migrate to Maui this time of year, which surprised me. My parents always did a fantastic job of trying to get to know a place well before we had to pack up and move. I remember the giant banyan tree near the boat slips, its roots dropping from above in a way that was magical to me then and now. I remember the creamy ice cream from Lapparts ice cream in Lahania, and how my parents bought bags of their toasted coconut coffee despite the hefty price tag.

"It was probably because we just spent a day there," my mom answered.

"A day?" I replied. "What do you mean?" Inter-Island flights were pretty cheap back then, so we visited all of the main islands during our three years.

"Well, flights were affordable, and hotels were more expensive, so we'd take the earliest flight in and the last flight out," she explained.

The conversation about these jam-packed days of my youth lasted a few more minutes. We remembered together that Maui was, in fact, a one-day affair. And we recalled together how we managed to go to Kaui, land, take a zodiac boat to a far-flung beach (that my conservative dad was horrified to realize was a nude beach), hike seven miles back to our car, and then have the airline hold our flight because we were almost late. When we went to the Big Island, my mom somehow managed to take not just me and my sister but also my very best friend and my sister's two friends. The six of us stayed a whole night in a super-cheap government hotel that was super-cheap for a reason.

Remembering the frenetic pace of those days on other islands made me chuckle, because there are definitely days when I try to fit in a few too many activities than most people might. But I always like doing and going and seeing and experiencing and exploring.

But I'm 40 now, and I realize there's beauty in the opposite of jam-packed. That day was a day to just do nothing. I sunk back on the sand a little heavier after hanging up with my mom.

When my husband woke up from his lazy beach nap and joined me closer to the ocean, I told him about my conversation with my mom.

"It explains a lot about me, right?" I asked him.

"Yup," he said. "Yup, it sure does."

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Grandfather's Life

Last November, when my children's school here in Edmonds, Washington, held its annual Grandparents Day, my grandfather--their great-grandfather--flew from Erie, Pennsylvania, to attend. It was a 3,200 mile journey for a 94 year old man whose last airplane ride was in 1999. My mom accompanied him through the airports and on the two airplanes that carried him from there to here, and all three of us were definitely anxious the whole time.

But the trip went great, and the time with my grandfather was priceless. The school's theme happened to be the early 1940s, and the songs, images, and history from those years seemed to be directed right at Grandpa. When I picked him and my mom up from Grandparents' Day and took them to lunch, he was overflowing with memories he hadn't thought of in years. My mom and I soaked up the time and stories. We hung on his sentences, wanting more and more.

My grandpa has always been a simple, good man. He grew up in Erie and still lives there. His parents were Polish Catholics, and he's been an usher at the same church for over 50 years. But he was also an amateur athlete--in the 1940s, he played minor league baseball with some of the men who turned out to be some of the Greats in that golden age of baseball, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, and some of the talented players from the Negro League, including Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. But he turned down an offer to go into the major leagues because he had a new wife to support and a country to serve. He still tears up thinking about what might have happened had things happened differently.

But when faced with a choice, Grandpa seems to have always chosen the right one. Not the easy or best one. The right one. Obligations weren't discussed back then; they were a driving force, things to follow like road signs.

Listening to him talk about his life during the days he visited our family last November, I am still struck by how humbly he described his nine decades of life. Mom and I were blown away by how extraordinary his life was, but when I looked at all the smaller events in his life, they didn't seem extraordinary (except for that whole baseball thing--that's pretty darn cool, any way you look at it). The fact that he persevered and still lived to tell the tale made it all extraordinary. I was struck by how little he complained about anything while he was visiting and how little he complained about where his own life had taken him.

His shrug-filled what-could-I-do approach to his own narrative was so very different than my own generation's white-knuckle approach to driving our own lives, our constant sharing and comparing, our never-ending reflecting on where we've been, who we want to be, and if this is the authentic life we should be living.

My to-do list looms large, and I have big hopes on what I want to accomplish today, this year, in my life. I want to publish some books. I want to conquer certain Crossfit skills. I want to do another marathon and an Ironman, too. But maybe these goals should be softened a bit and stand next to simpler goals. Goals that focus on just surviving, just living each day or week I'm lucky enough to have. Enjoying my kids' stories at the dinner table instead of improving their manners. Watching my dog run her heart out while chasing a ball. Looking at the horizon a little longer than yesterday. Reading more than one chapter with my kids each night.

My grandfather has lived a long, full life--but he has no giant accomplishments that come up when you Google his name. But Lenny Kolakowski is special to me and my children because he showed up, laughed with them, told a few jokes, shared cake with them.

Maybe this month in this Slice of Life challenge I'll do my best to tune into those little things that get pushed aside in this harried American life I have created for myself. Maybe I'll breathe more and give myself permission to post some shorter notes and less than earth-shattering reflections. Because sometimes it's just about showing up and doing all the ordinary stuff, and over the course of time it'll be something extraordinary.