Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Ditching the To-Dos

This morning, after my three children had their lunchboxes in hand, knew I loved them, hopped out at carpool, I drove to the mountains. It was 8:09 AM. I had exactly six hours and 51 minutes before I needed to be back. My yellow lab Sunny knew what was up. She saw my backpack and hiking boots. She heard as I grabbed a scoop of food for her and put it next to my baked sandwich. She eyed me as we and wagged her tail turned right towards I-5.

That's me! No to do list in my hand!
Usually Sunny and I meet my friend Zoe, whose  old, big, great dog Ozzie taught Sunny how to be a good trail dog with us. But back in May, Ozzie barely made it up to strenuous Mailbox Peak; she had to lay down and rest on the hike back down, and Zoe and I carried her the last mile. She weighs almost 80 pounds, and we barely made it back before pick up time. But it's Zoe's pace that I love the most, and it's her swearing and laughter and sharp observations that pair so perfectly with a good hike. Zoe and Ozzie hop in my Suburban right after morning drop off, so I get an extra two hours with her.

Other times I meet my friend Jamie, who has never brought her her goofy young retriever, and it's wise to leave behind her flat-faced, not-so-nice French bulldog. But I'm happy to hike just with her, listening to her stories of Ironman and Mont Blanc and the regular ups and downs of a long marriage. Jamie's pace is excellent, too, though we pause from sweaty ascents to snap photos of waterfalls or neat bridges or beautiful, Evergreen covered paths that show us the way.

Every now and then it's just me and Sunny. I know that bears and cougars and unkind people exist out there, not that we've run into any of them. When we hike alone we stick to popular trails and I tell my husband where I am, when I leave, and when I return. But I can go my own pace--a steady, strong "Ranger walk," like my dad used to when I hiked with him. I don't take breaks and I don't slow down; my thoughts wander and I breathe in the smell of fresh rain and pine trees. I always have to laugh at how fast I get to the top.

Sunny at Lake Serene
I trained for and ran marathons for years. When my children were born, I did P90X in our basement before they woke up. I switched to Crossfit when they could stay with a sitter and I've been doing that for years. But hiking feels different. There's no one else pushing me. I'm outside in nature, with another like-minded woman nearby, connecting with just one person. I'm smiling as my dog turns into a mountain goat and does twice my mileage and has an even bigger smile on her face. I leave my to-do list at home and hardly move my phone from my pocket. This feels so very devious! Like I'm skipping work...even though, as a stay-at-home mom, I don't work in the way most do.

I pay attention to time only because I need to get back to school by 3, with a tired and muddy pup, to pick up my kids. We all return home--to normalcy, to the to-do list, to a much-needed shower. My body is tired but my heart is happy, and I can continue with all my stay-at-home mom stuff with more humor and good stories. When they tumble back into my car at the end of the day, loud and loose after being on their best behavior for hours, they ask me, "How was your hike? Where'd you go?" and they ask when they can go, too.

In time, they'll come with me. One of these days, maybe I'll let one of them skip school and head to the mountains with me--they'll know how good it feels. Just a little bit naughty, but very good for the soul.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

I Need to Read Less

You are probably carving pumpkins or daydreaming about Thanksgiving menus, or maybe you're simply brushing off the dust your favorite pair of Fall boots. Not me. I'm looking to January 1st. I'm already thinking about New Years and New Years Resolutions. This year, one of my goals is going to be to read less.

You read that right. I need to read less.

For the past four years, one of my New Year's resolutions is to read 100 books a year. That sort of reading takes commitment and discipline. I've got both of those of those in spades. Plus, I've discovered the Overdrive app and have the ability to check out audiobooks from my library and listen to them on my phone.

I don't work outside the home, so most household chores fall to me. I pack lunches while my family sleeps, listening to Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodsen (the interview by her ten year old son after the book is charming!). I fold clothes and sweep while listening to Grant by Ron Chernow. My yellow lab is well-walked; she sniffs the leaves and sidewalks in Edmonds while I listen and chuckle to Yes Please by Amy Poehler.  My three children are involved in activities that require longer drives, so sometimes while they read books in the backseat, I sneak one earbud in and listen to Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. At night I pull out an actual physical book; right now I am reading Annie Dillard's The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New before sleeping.

I've always been a big reader, but after having three children I realized that books were an escape for me, and it's a rather cheap, easy escape. When my marriage hit turbulence and Depression pulled a gray blanket of sad over me, I dove into books.

When my own story was too difficult to face, escaping into other people's stories was easier. I used other authors' words to replace or maybe just push out the thoughts in my head. To block out memories of easier days. To shoo away the pesky "what if's" that buzzed in my brain like hungry mosquitoes. I drowned out the scary silence and everything else with books. I read at night to replace any last thoughts with someone else's story because my own was close and complicated and exhausting.

Three years and over 400 books later, I'm glancing up from my pages and taking my earbuds out to see myself and my habit. My reading has become a bit obsessive. Once it was helpful; now it is not. I need to decrease other people's sentences in my head and replace them with my own musings, thoughts, and reflections. I need to create some space to wonder, ruminate, and think.

I have to think about this three months in advance, because who says you have to change overnight? I like to plan ahead. I don't want my own thoughts to scare the shit out of me...I don't want this new resolution to be anything like a polar plunge into the quiet of my mind. Plus, with 76 books read this year and 24 more to go, I can't break the habit before reaching that goal I set for myself ten months ago!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Panic...at Victoria's Secret?

Last year, I was in a funk. A group of girlfriends with whom I'd been friends for over six years were together on a girls' weekend in Florida. But I was not there. I had moved to Washington State a few months before, and was too far to be part of their conversations, their daily Starbucks runs, their plans. The logical part of me understood why I was here and they were there; the emotional side of me was bummed. The pictures posted on social media didn't help, and my "Have so much fun!" plus smiley and thumbs up emojis masked the jealousy I felt.

Tired of me dragging my feet around and eager to see me feel better, my husband suggested I go to the mall. "Why don't you freshen up your lingerie drawer? Get some fun new stuff?"

Always happy to leave our three kids in his care and get some alone time, I said yes. I wasn't super into his plan, but I understood that getting out of the house might help me get out of my funk.

I drove to the Alderwood Mall, a fine but not-so-extraordinary mall twentyish miles north of Seattle and parked near Nordstrom. I strolled the displays there, tried on a bunch of things, and bought a handful. Then I headed to Victoria's Secret. I grabbed one of their mesh bags and threw some stuff in that I planned to try on. I was holding up some tiny pair of underwear when I looked out past Victoria's Secret's doors into the wide mall. Something caught my eye.

I saw people running.

Lots of people were running. Some were screaming. I could feel their panic. A few people ran into Victoria's Secret, and I heard the words you never want to hear: "He's got a gun!"

I quickly dropped behind the heavy display counters, cursing myself at the stupidity of being here and not home. Of "needing" overpriced lace in cute patterns and bright colors on this day. My heart beat out of my chest, and I could feel the adrenaline shoot through my body. Might I get hurt--killed?--in a lingerie shop?

The saleswoman who had just before handed me the mesh shopping bag crawled over to me.

"There's a back door! Come on!"

I followed this lady. We all did. We pressed ourselves into a tiny hallway. People pushed and shoved, some cried, almost wailing, unable to contain their fear inside. Mothers clutched children as hard as they could. Other mothers pushed their children, confused and clearly upset, in front of them, as if wishing them to get out first. Before them. I've never been in any sort of panicked crowd, and I do not want ever to be in one again.

We got out to the parking lot. To the crisp fall day. The sun seemed to promise safety. My hands were shaking--I could barely use my phone as I could not control my fingers. The only other time I have felt this sort of adrenaline was after delivering each of my three kids.

I thought I knew what relief was before this moment, but I rdidn't. I was so glad to be out. I was dazed from the previous five minutes--if the whole ordeal even lasted five minutes. I really have no idea. I texted my husband: "There is a shooter at the mall. I'm outside and I'm safe."

Because I was new to the area and had been to that mall only a few times before, and because I was completely shaken up, I walked around the entire mall looking for my car. Police swarmed the place, sirens blaring. I saw armed men moving quickly inside and was glad I was not there any more. It turns out that it wasn't a shooter. There was no gun. There was a stabbing in the food court; the police believed it to be an isolated incident where Person A went in looking for Person B and then stabbed him when he found him.

As I drove home that day, I said a thank you prayer. For keeping me safe, for keeping others safe, and for all of that craziness to have happened that day, and not two days before, when I had all three of my kids at the very same mall. I'm glad that they did not have to feel panicked and afraid like the other children I saw. And I continue to whisper prayers of please protect them because I know that stuff like that happens way too often, and I won't always be there.

And that scares me.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Patiently Walking to Spring

I'm sitting at the round table in my living room, big picture window in front of me that looks out to the Puget Sound. The Olympics are mostly covered with clouds, but this morning in the early morning light, their snowy peaks were clear and pink. The sun is shining bright--it looks like a summer day.

But...it's not.

The temperature is barely 40, and being this close to the water means there's a constant breeze. And I don't mean a warm, Hawaiian breeze. I mean a bone-chilling wet breeze. This is the kind of weather where my kids and I get excited to go for a bike ride but turn around after a mile because we forgot how cold our hands and noses get in weather like this. The sunny view from inside tricks us into forgetting that we're still in Winter.

I'm not the most patient sort. I am always looking to the next thing. The week before a road race, I'm Googling for the next half marathon six months from now. This morning, right after breakfast, I got the slow-roasting pork that my family would eat for lunch ready for the oven. At the same time I mixed the meatballs for dinner, to let their flavors develop in the refrigerator while we played and tinkered the day away.

But here we are at the beginning of March. I'm proud to have made it past February, my least favorite month because of it's expectation-laden holiday and gloomy weather. Like the view outside, March tricks me into thinking Spring is here. It nearly is.

What if, this year, I enjoy these last few weeks of Winter? What if I tried to find the joy in the little glimpses of Spring without casting a growl at Winter for still lingering? What if I said a little Ann-Lammott-like prayer of thanks! every time I noticed the sky lightening earlier, or the sky darkening later?

Hopefully this will help me slow down and appreciate today instead of simply looking ahead to tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that...

Friday, March 2, 2018


As a stay at home mom with three young children and a husband who works way too much, I have to confess: I love Monday mornings. On Monday mornings, I wake up early to walk the dog before the business of lunchbox-packing and breakfast-making begins. My husband often leaves before the kids wake up; if I'm looking to be an extra good wifey I'll pack him a lunch that involves rice and some sweet-salty Korean-ish meat. I throw on work out clothes and brush my teeth in the last seconds before the kids and I dash out the door. They chatter and I try and keep my patience during the 15 minute drive to school. I drive up through the carpool lane, and they get out.

And then it's quiet.

Oh. So. Quiet.

Friday afternoons are the opposite of Monday mornings, of course.

But on this Friday afternoon, we all took the dog for a walk together--me on my feet, them on some sort of wheels they got from the garage. The weather is cold and dreary, but if the dog has to be walked, why not encourage them to come along? My two boys are playing basketball with the two neighborhood boys, and my oldest daughter has been sitting on the sofa--reading, helping her little brother (before the basketball began), and now is taking a turn on the iPad before dinner.

I've been quietly making jerk chicken. Mixing the cinnamon, salt, brown sugar, cumin, cardamom in a little bowl, then rubbing it onto the chicken breasts. I've prepped tomorrow's Kalua pork, a recipe that makes me think of a luau we went to last year during a vacation to Maui. My mind lingered back to those times as my hands worked, cleaning the kitchen for the third or so time of the day.

And now the sun is setting out my window--somehow it's found a clear patch in the sky amidst all the dark clouds that threatened rain all day.

It's quiet now, because it's just me and my girly. When the boys come in, their bring in their energy and excitement, but the talk will soon turn to what movie we're going to see over the weekend as we dig into the jerk chicken and corn and cole slaw.

I guess Fridays aren't so bad.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Family Book Club

A few weeks ago, my oldest son Ben suggested to his big sister Lorelei and little brother Kiefer and me: "Let's have a family book club."

The suggestion hung in the air; I waited to see if his siblings would match Ben's enthusiasm or strike down the request. As a giant book lover and devourer of books, I held my breath and hoped. Would they support their brother in this out-of-left-field suggestion, or might they chuckle at the random suggestion that create homework for themselves?

"Yeah!" they agreed.

I let out my breath. I patted myself on the back for whatever hand I had in this sincere appreciation for books and thanked my lucky stars for these cool apples who definitely fell close to this tree.

(Honestly, the reward for reading the book was really having permission to get on my laptop and do a PowerPoint presentation as a final book report/presentation to the rest of us. Nothing is cooler than PowerPoint right now to them...if that's not chuckle-worthy, I don't know what is!)

Ben got slips of paper and asked for help in remembering different genres of books. "What's a genre?" asked first grader Kiefer. Fifth grader Lorelei filled in the blanks for him, and we threw out a healthy list of categories: nonfiction, fiction, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, biography, graphic novels. He folded the slips of paper, grabbed one of his many baseball caps, and let Kiefer do the honor of choosing the first genre.

"Biography!" Kiefer declared.

They happily started looking for books and talking about which person in history was interesting to them. They Googled and looked to see if our library had the books they wanted. Kiefer became quickly overwhelmed by the number of options within the "Who Was...?" book series. While I observed them and chimed in to help, I began to wonder who I would choose.

A few days later, I got a notification from my library that it was finally my turn to listen to the audio version of Grant by Ron Chernow. The decision was made. I'd listen to this book and learn about this important man and also do my book report on him.

While I faithfully review almost all of the books I read on Goodreads, listening to Grant with an ear towards lessons for my children on this leader has been unexpectedly fun. Should I share with them that his first name is actually Hiram, middle name Ulysses, which created the initials "HUG" for which he was teased mercilessly in grade school? Should I tell them, especially my equestrian daughter, of his horsemanship? In addition to these two things, here are the things that stand out to me as very worthy of teaching them about Ulysses S. Grant:

  • He was a kind-hearted, tender leader who once walked among the wounded in the Mexican-American War and gave water to a wounded enemy after walking the battlefield to look for his own troops.
  • He was a successful military leader early on, but then got out of the Army to pursue civilian life with his wife and children. But he was a failure at all things agrarian and business. Yet these failures meant he was looking for an opportunity, and when southern states seceded and military leaders were needed, he was in need of work--and this was his kind of work.
  • Many believe he was an alcoholic from a young age; Chernow argues that he was disciplined with his alcohol abuse and kept it from affecting his family and military career. He was a private man who took seriously the positions he held, but was undoubtedly unable to shake this addiction altogether.
I'm looking forward to listening to the rest of the book--which is a good thing, because I'm on part 7 of 38 parts!--and I'm looking forward to my own PowerPoint presentation to my trio at the end of the month. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I Quit

I'm quitting writing.

I just got home from my middle grade critique group, where I told my two excellent, also unpublished authors: "I need to take a break." They nodded their heads, telling me to come back anytime. I took a deep breath and walked away as they started to plan their next meeting.

Some backstory: Five years ago, I decided I wanted to write children's books. Our three kids were very young, and I was surrounded by piles of books of all sizes and fonts and types. I started writing my own stories, playing around with voice and plot and syntax. At the same time, I tried to learn as much as I can about writing children's books, mostly books, blogposts, and my newly formed critique group. After three years of picture books and dozens of rejections, I had a go at a longer format. I wrote an early middle grade chapter book, about 22,000 words, and for the last two years I've edited and revised it.

I still had those three children. I still am surrounded by piles and piles of books. But they did what children do--they grew up some in the last five years. Their baby phases ended and school began. Practices and playdates replaced the long afternoon walks to the mailbox. My husband still works long ten to twelve hour days, so all of the household management and parenting falls to me.

A few months ago, I sent my long, polished manuscript to a few agents. I really thought I was going to get a YES from one. I did not.

Her rejection was the straw that broke the camel's back. (Now that I'm not writing I can use such cliches.) I'm now reconsidering everything, as setbacks usually make a person do. After weeks of soul-searching and wondering and really thinking about it, I've decided to quit writing children's books.

At least I think so. At least for a while. The thing is, this quitting doesn't have to last forever. If I miss it, if I feel empty without sitting down at my computer and typing out a new story, if I want to be involved in the children's literature community as a writer and not just a blogger and aficionado, then I'll pick it back up. This quitting is almost a test, a litmus test to see how passionate I am about writing stories.

But slicing? Essays? I can't imagine not writing those. In fact, the first thing I did after breaking up with my critique group was to sit down, open my laptop, and edit this before clicking "publish." So...see you next Tuesday.