Monday, November 17, 2014


I hear so many good things about meditation.  So!  Many!  And let's face it, I need all the help I can get.  There is enough stress in my life that I've gained fifty pounds in a year and can hardly turn my neck for all the tension I hold there.   I have been trying to meditate somewhat regularly (i.e. a couple times a week, except for when it's a couple times a month, or three days in a row).

I found an awesome website called that offers free guided meditation in 2, 5, 10, and 20 minute intervals.  I can get the kids to sit with me for the 2 minute one, and on good days they will ask if we can do a 5 minute one.  It is easier to meditate when you are calm than when you are stressed.  (Is that irony?  Ever since people started mocking Alanis Morissette I've been nervous about using that term in public.)  A five minute meditation session usually consists of about 4 minutes of my thoughts racing all over the place and one minute of dozing off.  I've also read that going to sleep during meditation is a sign that you are hiding from the work you need to do.  I suspect it's more that I'm tired, but there's no reason why it couldn't be both.

But it still feels good.  It makes me feel like I'm doing something to take care of myself, what Beth Woolsey calls "radical acts of self care."    That alone is worth the price.  (Which is free.  I'm sorry, I can't tell if I'm being funny or just incomprehensible.)

How have you taken care of yourself lately?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Acting Like My Father

Years ago I saw a sitcom where one woman is accused of acting like her father.  "Oh my God," she gasps.  "I've been trying so hard to not become my mother--I never saw THAT coming!"  I laughed with recognition.

My words, my moods, my mannerisms--all my mom's.  Even the ways I'm not like her are defined by her.  "Mom would never let her kitchen get this messy."  And yet, my dad seeps through in odd moments.  My family sits down to eat dinner; I pop back up to turn out the lights in other rooms, and remember my dad doing the same.  I walk along slick pavement, and despite the cold, pull my hands out of my pockets "in case I fall," responding to a lifetime of warnings.  As a parent, I finally understand why sucking on the last bit of drink through my straw, or sniffing repeatedly without ever going to get a kleenex both drove him nuts.

My dad gave me many gifts. My love of mountains.  An appreciation for late afternoon's "sweet light."  Wanderlust.  He was a great model for how to maintain friendships and how to enjoy life's simple pleasure.  When I turned 18 he told me, "Vote for any party you want, but always support schools, parks, and libraries."  His quirks and talents and lessons are woven into my life.

As I started to learn about the concept of white privilege during the past few years, I've come to realize that I already was aware that it existed, because my suburban, middle-class white dad pointed it out to me throughout my life.  I knew his friend Nick didn't like to come visit us because in our neighborhood, he was likely to get pulled over for Driving While Black.  I knew that one of the only times my dad ventured from photography into writing was when his friend Max was mistaken for "a Jap" in a small Idaho town where they were covering a mining disaster, and was told to be out of town by sundown or be found face-down in a river.  (This was a good 15 years after WWII ended, and Max is actually Hispanic.)  My dad was outraged, and wanted to shine as much publicity on the event as possible.  He told me about attending high school in the late 1940s, and how the black kids came in the back door.  At the time, he figured everyone went in the doorway closer to their own neighborhood, but a few years out of high school, with a few years in the city newsroom under his belt, he wised up, and was ashamed of his complacent naivety.

"You know," I told him a few years ago, "some people think we don't have any more racism, because we elected Obama."

He sputtered for a moment.  "People are idiots!" he finally got out.  "Just because it's not a problem for THEM, they think it's not a problem."  Which is probably the most succinct definition of privilege there is.

Another time he sighed, "If I hate bigots, does that make me a bigot?"

He was a product of his time and place, as we all are.  He had his prejudices and blind spots, as we all do.  He strove to see people clearly, to value others as they are, and to not mistake his own experience for universal experience.   When he died last February, he left behind literally thousands of top notch photographs.  His more important legacy is what he taught his girls about being human.

With all four daughters at his 80th birthday 2012

Dancing with my mom at a friend's wedding ca. 2002

On a mountain climb ca: 1950

At an artist's reception 2012

Supervising my niece ca 1995

On a photography outing 2011

Us on top of Mt. Hood 1984

Dancing together at my friend's wedding 1990
This has been a "Finish the Sentence Friday" post.  The prompt was "The best advice my dad ever gave me..."  Link up here!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My Very Favorite Books

I spent much of this rainy Sunday scrolling through Goodreads, when I should have been doing housework, grading, or possibly even interacting with my children.   I was checking out the "best books ever" list and trying to make my top 100 choices.  I was consciously trying to include different types of favorites--classics, beloved children's books, the best book in my favorite mystery series, books that made me think, etc.   One thing I noticed is that some of the titles I chose recalled specific people and places for me--my best friend and I read Accidental Tourist aloud to each other as we sunbathed one summer in high school, I read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting sitting in a Danish windowsill during my college semester abroad, I listened to a recording of The Hero and the Crown lying on my bed for a few days in August while I recovered from a minor bike accident.  Much like the way a wine you drink when you are having a delightful experience at a winery tastes better than a wine you pick up at the grocery store, some books are memorable for more than the story itself, but also for what the story represents in my personal history.

There is, of course, no agreed upon list of 100 best books, and no way to even choose which books are my 100 favorite.  The top 50 or so would probably make the list on any day, but the others could be pushed off if I were in a different mood.  Still, if I had to commit to only reading from the list I developed today, I could live with that.

My top 10:

1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I thought I hated Steinbeck, and indeed, most mid-century male American writers.  The year I spent living in Riga, I got membership at a small English language library.  Pickings were slim, and I read a number of books I wouldn't have otherwise.  Two pages in, and I was eating crow.  This book is magnificent.

2. The River Why by David James Duncan
While I've only read The Grapes of Wrath once, this book I've read easily a dozen times.   It was definitely a case of the right book at the right time--I read it as a young adult, and it is a fantastic coming of age novel.  It starts out humorous and moves into philosophy without leaving any readers behind.  It's also set in familiar places.  I have loaned this book out repeatedly, and my beloved 25 year old copy shows how many times its been read.  I haven't actually re-read it in the past ten years or so--I'm almost afraid to.  The Brothers K, by the same author, also rocked my world.

You know why I love this book.  My favorite story about it is a friend of mine whose daughter read it in 7th grade, 10th grade, and then again in college.  "I've always loved this book," she told her mom, "but I wish they'd let us read the full version in middle and high school instead of the abridged version."  Her mom explained that she had actually read the full version all three times, but was bringing so much more to the story now that it seemed richer to her.

4. Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Oh, Tess.  This was one of my first classics.  Far From the Madding Crowd has a happier ending, but sometimes heartbreak is the way to go.  It is, of course, frustrating to read this as a modern woman, but if you accept that people do things differently in the past, it has that sense of tragic inevitability.

And again I go for the local author.  Le Guin has written so many books that I love, but the audacity of imagining a world in which gender fluctuates at each "time of the month" makes this one brilliant.  Plus, it's ends up being swooningly romantic, as two tough and private people let down the walls between them.

I can't believe more people don't know this book, and it's sunnier prequel, The Good Master.  War, anti-Semitism, courage, growing up--plus gorgeous illustrations and a look at life on the Hungarian plains.  Kate and Jansci learn more than children should have to, but luckily have wise and loving parents to help them process the horrors of WWI.  

So, Dickens is not particularly subtle, and this is probably not his greatest work from an artistic standpoint--or maybe it is, how the hell would I know?  But after being introduced to Oliver Twist around age 10, this was the next Dickens I encountered, the summer after my freshman year at high school.  We had studied the French Revolution, and here was this incredible novel about--get this!--the French Revolution!   I am a complete sucker for learning history from novels, and the book just blew me away.  

Sci Fi about a woman in a dystopian society who falls in love with a golem.  In other words, I can't actually explain this book, but I loved it.  Incredibly moving and fierce.  

More feminist sci fi, yay!  It's occurring to me that many of these books I read between the ages of 18-25.  I guess I was old enough to really GET serious literature, and young enough to be BLOWN AWAY by encountering it.  

Okay, so my 10th spot was a complete toss-up between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Anne of Green Gables, Far From the Madding Crowd, Angle of Repose, Snow Falling on Cedars, Martian Chronicles, City of Thieves, Blueberries for Sal, The Monkey Wrench Gang, etc. etc.  But this book contains a scene where the protagonist is learning about the atrocities that caused another character to flee Nicaragua in the 1980's.  She says something like, "I wouldn't want to live in a world where those things happen," and he replies "But you already do." It gave me chills then, and it gives me chills now.  Just because it's not happening TO ME doesn't mean it's not my problem.  

If you like the list, let me know--I can do top 10s in categories too...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween. Because I'm In Too Deep of a Sugar Low to be Creative.

I didn't take any photos of my kids this Halloween.  The first year they were here, I took a bunch of pictures BOTH times they carved pumpkins, and then of course of their costumes and their first trick-or-treating experience.  Last year we got a quick photo as we headed out the door, then a couple more as they sorted out their loot on the kitchen floor.  This year Oak did ask me to film him carving his pumpkin, because he was trying to make a "how to" video (since, you know, people don't know how to carve pumpkins...?), but I didn't get a single shot of them in costume.

I was feeling mild guilt about this, and then I thought--how many pictures do we have from Halloween when I was a kid?  I can think of one black-and-white shot of my mom and sisters lounging across my parents bed admiring me as I pose in my princess outfit--one of my mom's old nighties and a cardboard cone hat with lace trailing off the top.  (This also explains my deep seated prejudice against spending money on Halloween costumes.)  The only other picture from my early Halloween's is one of me at age 4 dressed as, I shit you not, a geisha girl.  There are so many layers of wrong to this costume.  I realize that geishas aren't necessarily prostitutes, but there is that connotation, which I'm sure my parents were aware of, right?  Then there is the whole, "Hey, I'm going to be Japanese for Halloween" aspect, which is so culturally inappropriate and offensive.  But I remember clearly how delighted I was that the black wig hid all my hair, and the face paint disguised my face, so that all the neighbors declared they had NO IDEA who I was.  Now that I'm no longer four, I suspect that between the fact that I was one of the only little kids on the street and that I would have been with my dad or sisters, people probably did know who I was.  But when you're little, being in costume makes you feel transformed.

This year my kids were a zombie and a vampire.  We took our 15 year old neighbor, who just immigrated from Iran last summer, with us.  He had an black and red belled jester costume, horrifying skeleton mask, and a fake ax.  True to family form, my kids were wearing some face paint and half-assed homemade/Goodwill costumes.  They were all awesome.  They were transformed.

This was part of the Finish the Sentence Friday blog-hop.  Link up at: Finding Ninee

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Great Front Porch Toilet Flush of 2014, or That 101st Cheap Date Idea You've All Been Waiting For

We live in a house with 3 toilets and 4 people.  This is a change from how I grew up, with 2 toilets and 6 people.  So when one toilet--in the kids' bathroom--stopped flushing reliably, we worked on it from time to time, but mostly just said, "Use one of the other bathrooms."  I gave my son a brief (thankfully) lesson in how to use less than half a roll of toilet paper to wipe with.  What can I say?  He comes from a country where the TP goes in the trash, not down the toilet, so he was never taught to conserve, I guess.

Then the guest bathroom toilet stopped working also.  Well, it would work with just water, but not much else.  So now the kids were traipsing in and out of our bedroom every time they needed to go potty, since the master bath had the only remaining functioning toilet.  This prompted the Winemaker to get more serious about fixing the downstairs toilet.  He got an auger and spent a good deal of time swearing at it, to no avail.

Friday we had my twice-a-year miracle, a day I am off work but the kids have school.  Yes, I went back to bed after they left for the day.  When I got up, my husband had made me lunch.  I was blissfully eating and reading, when he walked into the room and said, "You wanna help me fix the toilet?" and gave me a big grin to let me know that he knew exactly how much I did NOT want to deal with anything toilet related.  But I knew he'd already done what he could single-handed, and I did vow for better and for worse, so I said, "Let me finish my lunch," and then went to change into grubbies.

I was dreading it, though.  First, toilet--ew.  Second, the Winemaker is much more intuitive than I am about fixing things, and spatial problems in general, and usually winds up getting frustrated when I am unable to understand what my role is when we're working on something like this.  I am the person that NEVER can figure out how to rotate an object being carried through a doorway so that it will fit. He'll ask for a tool, and unless it's a hammer or screwdriver, I tend to say, "Um, can you describe it?"  It offends my feminist sensibilities greatly, but there it is.  I keep trying though, because I know that if he's asking for my help, he is feeling stuck on his own, and because I keep thinking I might learn something, or develop some confidence.

So there we were, in the tiny guest bathroom, and he got the toilet laying on its back.  Then he looked at me and gravely said, "We should probably put a sign on it so nobody tries to use it."

I thought of how OBLIVIOUS certain members of our household can be and busted up laughing.

And we were off.  I'm not saying there wasn't any frustration, but it was the two of us frustrated with the toilet, not each other.  

When we finally decided that the augur wasn't getting everything, we decided to carry the entire toilet out to the front porch and see if we could force out the blockage with a hose.  There's nothing like sitting a toilet down on your front porch to see if the neighborhood is paying attention.  We both had the giggles.  We cranked up the hose and blasted that sucker.

And finally...out popped a color pencil.  If we had approached this job as a miserable chore and a swear-project, the kids would have been in SO MUCH TROUBLE.  But because we'd been treating it as a joke, the pencil was just the punchline.  We contemplated putting it back in their color pencil box and telling them to guess which one had spent a month or more in the toilet.  We started making guesses about what could be blocking the kids' toilet upstairs.  We got the toilet back into the house without me getting us hung up in any doorways, and the Winemaker got it re-sealed to the floor.

"You hear that?"  he asked, and we listened to the water rushing as the toilet flushed easily.  "Isn't that a beautiful sound?"  We grinned at each other.

I'd thought that on our kid-less day we could maybe go get coffee.  How dull!  This took us back to the early days, when just being together made anything automatically exciting.  I remember the thrill of going grocery shopping with him, of spreading barkdust with him, of changing the sheets together.  The task is just a task, but the feeling of being on the same team makes it a good time.

So if you're looking for some unexpected fun with your sweetie--turn your kids loose in the bathroom and take it from there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kids? What kids?

Tonight the Winemaker and I realized that we had somehow forgotten that we have kids EVEN IN THE MORNING.  We both had plans to be away during the get-up-and-go-to-school part of the day. We both knew about each other's plans.  Yet we failed to make a plan for the kids.  We've only been parents for two years, you guys.  It's not like you can expect us to take our children into consideration when planning our days...oh wait, yes you can.  Hm.

I'm not sure what to say about how we got ourselves into this situation, but he is leaving town at 3 am to go pick up grapes in Eastern Washington, and I leave for work at 6:30, and the kids can't be at school until 8:00.  And while they have the technical skills to dress and feed themselves, and even to bike to school, they don't have the emotional skills to resist eating all the sugar in the house, beating each other up, and playing video games all morning, instead of getting out the door.  I worked out a crazy plan with my very understanding boss to bring my kids to work with me (because they would TOTALLY behave themselves sitting in a classroom full of older kids who are dominating Mommy's attention...or not), but a desperate plea over Facebook garnered an offer of support from a woman whose son played soccer with my son last year.

This is complicated by the fact that our daughters adore each other, but our sons barely tolerate each other.  Okay, I think her kid hates my kid, and Oak just likes her kid because he has cool video games at his house.  I think their boy is kind of a dick, frankly, which just goes to show how unfair life is, because Oak has a lot bigger behavior issues, but the fact that another kid would dare to not like him just makes me mad.

Further complicated by the fact that their daughter is as wildly unpredictable as my son, so when we swap kids, as we do, I find it enormously stressful, BUT sometimes they offer to take ALL FOUR KIDS, so I feel like a total parent wimp.

And now I am totally and forever in these people's debt.  It's kind of weird.  None of our family were able to help out, nor good friends.  Is it better to be in serious debt to people you don't know well, or to people you do?   It's kind of like the difference between borrowing money from the bank or from your mother-in-law (yeah, that happened this week too--we're on a roll).

Just had to share.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Goodbye, Summer. *sobs*

*insert standard apology/complaint about not having posted in so long*

I'm having less trouble than usual saying goodbye to this summer vacation.  I suspect it's because I was really lame and lethargic all summer, so why not go back to work?  Plus, after having a bad teaching year last year for a variety of reasons, I'm anticipating getting my mojo back this year.  I'm excited about my curriculum and my teaching team, and I'm optimistic about my students and my department.

But saying goodbye to summer itself?  NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!



This summer was crazy hot by Oregon standards.  I LOVED it.  I mean, yes, I did also discover that I'm more of an 80s kind of girl than a 90s kind of girl, but give me 90 and hot over 65 and rainy any day.  Opening the windows at sunset, putting fans in them, and flopping around on top of the bedspread until, sometime around midnight, the room finally cools off enough to get under the sheet--LOVE IT.  Wearing one pair of shorts day after day after day after day because they're the only pair that fit and nothing else is cool enough--LOVE IT.  Putting the kids to bed in sleeping bags on the back porch because their rooms are on the hot side of the house--LOVE IT.

There is so much I didn't do this summer--no lake swimming, barely any camping, no mountains, and due to the Mother's Day Bee Sting Incident (which started with me saying, "Stop freaking out, a bee's not going to just fly up and sting you," and ended with, you guessed it, a bee flying up and stinging my youngest child), I couldn't even get my family to eat on the deck.  But still, it was SUMMER, MAN.  I read 30 books.  Roses bloomed.  I stayed up late and slept in, heedless of my children's all-morning video game extravaganzas.  Ice cream was consumed.  (Do you like how I suddenly switched to passive voice for that one?)  We dug out the slip-n-slide, hosed off the more obvious mold stains, and kids frolicked.  I'd stop by my sister's house, and three hours and two glasses of wine later, we'd light a fire in her fire pit.  My husband developed a habit of picking up iced coffees every time he was out in the afternoon, and even more than the iced coffee aspect (which is pretty awesome already), there was the little rush of getting a treat from my sweetheart, knowing he was thinking of me.  Oak finally figured out the crawl stroke, Linden learned archery at camp, and I hosted two whole play dates.

Also--and please don't take this the wrong way, all you Mamas and Papas out there--I did not have to grade one single paper, and the only freaky kids I had to deal with were my own.  Plus, I could see a therapist once a week.  There is just no way to have regular therapy during the school year.  So, yay for mental health.

Now it's ending.  There is still the lovely golden summer light in the evening, but it arrives earlier and turns to dusk quicker.  Oak woke up early this morning needing another blanket on his bed.  The swifts have left our chimney.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to live somewhere that is warm year-round.  If I love summer so much, why do I stay in this place where we earn our sunny days with 8 months of rain?  Then I remember the winter I spent in Mexico.  As part of my grad school teaching practicum, I lived with a family and taught English at a community college.  My host sister and I had several variations of this conversation:

Martha:  (something about a barbecue)
Me: Oh, we have barbecues in the summer too!
Martha: Why in the summer?
Me: That's the only time the weather is good enough.
Martha: Really?  Weird.
(For "barbecue," substitute picnic, outdoor swimming, sundresses, etc.)

And while I enjoyed my Mexican winter, I realize that part of what makes these things so special to me is their very rarity.  Painted toenails in sandals wouldn't give me a little thrill if that's how my feet always looked.  Lemonade would start to feel passé.  I'd miss the ceremony of setting out the patio furniture and lose my deadline for getting myself to a lake.  This horrible sense of NOOOOOOOOOOOOO I get as August slides into September is the price I pay for the bliss summer brings.  Even this year, when I was dull and unmotivated, I kept turning to my kids and saying, "Have I mentioned I love summer?"

"Yes, Mom.  About a hundred times."

This was a "Finish the Sentence Friday" post.  Click here for more!

Monday, August 4, 2014

When Spaghetti is Worse Than Missing Dessert

I must have done something terribly wrong* for parenting karma to bite me like this.

My kids have stopped liking spaghetti.  From the day we met, up until about three weeks ago, one way to achieve harmony in our household was to put some noodles in water, some sauce and meat in a pan, and with very little effort, feed all of us.  But now, spaghetti is rejected.

By both of them.  At the same time.  My daughter, who lives for salad bars, so she can load up her plate with beets.  My son, who dances in the grocery aisle in his attempts to convey to me his enthusiasm for sardines.

They sit and look sadly at their plates of spaghetti.  The look in their eyes is much like what mine would be if I were offered a sardine and beet stew.

"I don't really want dessert tonight, Mom," sighs Linden, listlessly pushing the noodles across her plate.  This is code for "I'm refusing to eat what I'm served."  The understanding is that if you eat a reasonable amount of all of your dinner, you will be invited to dessert.

"I'm still full from those apples and peanut butter, Mom," says Oak diplomatically.

"The ones you had at 11:00 this morning?" I ask.

"Um.  Yeah.  I don't really feel like dessert tonight either."

"Fine," I reply.  "But in an hour and a half from now, when we're getting ready for bed, I don't want to hear that you are suddenly starving."

"Deal!" he exclaims.  "And if I do...I owe you a half hour of work around the house!"

Sounds like a win-win to me.  Except for the small matter of the ginormous bowl of spaghetti I put back in the fridge.  I am not going to serve it to them for breakfast and lunch tomorrow, but I am serving it for dinner tomorrow night.  I can only hope that either hunger wins out, or diplomacy continues to reign.

*Well, I guess I've been honest enough on here that we all know I have screwed up badly more than a few times.  I deserve worse than this.  But who wants what they deserve?


Sunday, August 3, 2014

"I Am Not Needy; I Am Wanty."

"Guess what?"

Our seven year old neighbor is dancing with excitement on our front doorstep.  Linden and I are chatting with her for a few minutes before we have to run an errand.  The girls have already arranged to have a tea party when we get back.

She can't even wait for us to ask.  "I'm taking the first test towards getting my quad license today!"

I ask her what that involves.  "Reading a chapter book and answering 2 questions.  Or maybe 11."  This sounds more like AR than the DMV, but I know nothing about quads.  Maybe this is her family's personal licensing system.  Still, I know what is coming next.

"Lucky!" Linden says this with that jealous punch that drags the word out.  She slides her eyes up towards me.  "It's not fair.  You guys have more money than us."

I fall back on the hoariest of chestnuts.  "Life's not fair, sweetpea, and you know that."

"That's what my sister always says!" exclaims our guest.

"All of us on this street are very lucky compared to many people in the world," I add.  Sanctimonious, but true.  The girls get side tracked into a conversation about who has more dogs in their family.  We leave for our errand.

We do seem to be the poorest and/or cheapest of our kids' friends' families.  The neighbors have an RV, four quads, a trampoline, and an above ground pool.  Linden's friend has three American Girl dolls, countless stuffies, and an endless array of new clothes.  They take gymnastics and horse riding lessons, and the family heads off on vacations every month or so.  This is typical of the kids they play with, and most of our adult friends as well.  None of us are fabulously wealthy--our social circle sits firmly in the 99%, as far as American wealth goes--but, according to the above infographic, we are also in the top 8% worldwide.

My kids used to live in a garage.

Their birth mom is homeless.


I haven't even mentioned Oak yet, but he is a bottomless pit of Wanting More Stuff.  He was fostered in two different Italian families three years ago--an adoption trial masquerading as a summer exchange--and he talks about it often, compared to how much he talks about the rest of his past.  It must have been a confusing time, being told to call first one pair of people Mama and Papa, then, when he seemed too rowdy to them and was passed on to a younger couple, being told that now THESE people would be Mama and Papa.  Then, at the end of the summer, back to the orphanage after all.

When he talks about it, he talks about the toys they bought him, toys he had to leave behind.  Legos, train sets, bikes, remote control cars, DVDs, video games... he describes a sort of Lost Boys wonderland of eating sweets and chips all day, playing video games without limit, and an endless supply of newer and better toys.  Whenever I ask him about the people, he becomes vague.  There might have been a brother or two in one family.  A grandma who let them watch movies all morning.  He doesn't remember the parents, and doesn't care to, but he is still angry about the loss of all those toys.  Life OWES him those toys.

(Yes, I get that this is displacement on his part, and that Stuff is less likely to hurt you than People are.)

I don't blame them.  Even besides the fact that it really is time for life to be unfair in their favor, I too tend to wander the shore of the endless sea of wanting more.  I am happy in my life, glad I earn enough to support my family, and that the Winemaker earns enough to support his winemaking.  I have everything I need and more.  But I have senseless wants, and I must battle my envy, just like my kids do.  I bought two new dresses this summer; my colleague bought a dozen.  We took a day trip to the beach; a friend's family rented a cabin for a week.  I tell myself that it's ridiculous that our family of four has to cram into a 2 door Civic, that my husband's allergies would improve if we replaced the carpets with wood, or even Pergo.  I try to explain to my son that getting this new toy will not actually make him happy, then I find myself wandering Target, thinking, 'Oh, I NEED that!" about objects I never would have considered if I'd just stayed home.  Or gone hiking.  Or read a book.


As Linden and I drove off on our errand, we passed the Oregon Food Bank headquarters on our street.  I remembered the time we saw a beggar as we exited the grocery store parking lot, and she asked if we could invite him home to sleep at our house.  "Let's sign up to help out at the food bank," I told her.  "I get why you sometimes feel jealous that your friends have things you don't, but we actually have a lot."

She started listing things we have--a house, cars, enough food always.  "So we should give some food to people who don't have any!"

I told her that, according to our paperwork, she herself once lived in a garage.

"I don't remember that," she said.  "That makes me sad."

It makes me sad too.  And angry.  And confused.  And embarrassed, that I, who have never lacked a safe place to sleep, am envious of those who have a few more toys than I do.  So I will sign us up to help sort food, and I will continue to limit my trips to Target, and be inspired by the Winemaker's thriftiness and self sufficiency.  I will not shame my kids for wishing they had more, nor try to create guilt for having so much when others have so little, but I will try to model mindfulness and gratitude.  I will force myself to have the uncomfortable conversations about their past, to tie together their history and their current life, and to help them see that just as they are the same person now they were then, that those who have less than us (or more than us) are no less human for that.
: )

Monday, July 21, 2014

Country and Jazz

My Summer of New started off strong, then, predictably, began to falter.  Luckily, when it was novel and fresh and exciting, I'd made myself a little list of ideas, so when I noticed I was really having to reach to come up with a new thing to record at the end of the day ("My kid learned how to dive!  Wait, that's not my new thing.  I watched a movie I'd never seen before!  Yes, and...?), I used the list to get me going again.

Today was the day I listened to not-my-radio-station all day long.  Well, when I was in the car, which is the only time I listen to the radio.  The kids started a day camp across town, which very conveniently starts AND ends at the height of rush hour, so it was a couple of hours of drive time musical novelty.

The buttons in my car are programmed to:
  1. Adult contemporary (Bob Marley to The Lumineers to Ray LaMontage to Sheryl Crow)
  2. Alternative
I mostly switch back and forth between those two channels when ads come on, but sometimes I use the other buttons, which are, more or less in order of preference:

    3.  Classical music
    4.  the 80s station
    5. NPR
    6.  classic rock

So today, I programmed the second menu of buttons to the following:

    1.  Christian music
    2.  Jazz
    3.  the Spanish station
    4.  hip-hop
    5.  country
    6. top 40

Here's what I noticed:
  • Both the hip-hop station and the top 40 station played "Fancy."  My only previous exposure to the song was when Jimmy Fallon lip synched to it.  I had just read this article by Brittney Cooper describing how Iggy, a white Australian, has co-opted black culture with this song, so I was both interested and slightly repulsed.  Also, I can't get it out of my head.  
  • When I switched to the jazz station, I immediately wanted to switch away.  Jazz is so...twitchy.  Not enough melody.  I was grumbling to myself, 'It's like the clarinet and the piano are playing two different songs that happen to have the same beat."  Then I started counting the beat in my head, and suddenly it started making more sense to me.  I wound up listening to two more songs before an ad came on.  It's still not my cup of tea, but I bet it's fun to see live.
  • The Christian station was boring.  Sorry, but it was.  
  • I liked the music on the Spanish station--all that accordion music always reminds me of Eastern European songs--but the DJs were really shrieky.  
  • So were the hip-hop DJs.  
  • Top 40 was only slightly less dull than the Christian station.
  • Surprise of the day--I was kind of digging the country station.  I'm not sure why they have to sing with a twang--in rock and pop, you can't tell if a singer is American, Swedish. British, or what, so don't tell me they're not intentionally twanging--but I am a sucker for story songs.  There were several that were okay, and one I came home and looked up.  Luke Bryan's "Play it Again."   I think I've heard his name, but I don't know any of his music.  
This was fun.  At first I had to remind myself not to switch away from the stations, but by the afternoon I would listen to several songs in a row, switching stations at ad breaks, like I normally do.  My listening to unfamiliar stations all day doesn't do any good for the world, but it was definitely a "break out of my rut" day.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A New High, which is actually a New Low

I grew up thin without thinking about it.  I thought diets were dumb, and girls who obsessed about their exercise program were boring.  My best friend was prettier and more socially skilled than I, but when we stood side by side examining ourselves in the mirror (that's not weird, right?), she would sigh, "Your thighs are so thin."  I was extremely pleased with this.  (It took me years to realize that we didn't have the healthiest of friendships.)

When I started swim team my sophomore year in high school, my mom took me aside after the first month and informed me that I had 3 weeks to put 5 pounds back on, or she'd take me off the team.  Anorexia was "new" then, and I'm sure when she read about all these middle class white girls who felt like they had to be perfect, she worried about me.

I chuckled then, and I chuckle now.  I also started eating donuts after practice.  I have many hang-ups and unhealthy habits, but starving myself will never be one of them.  

The summer after college, I was on a beach in Cornwall, and realized that my stomach was not perfectly flat.  It rounded (every so slightly) over my bikini bottom.  I was mortified.  Not enough to DO anything about it, but still.  My days of eating whatever I wanted and being slim anyway were clearly numbered.

I was still thin.  I stayed a size 10 (at 5'7") until my mid-thirties.  I have never been athletic (swim team was a delightful two year aberration), but in my thirties I started hiking a lot more, and even climbed a few non-technical mountains.  I was heavier than I'd been in my twenties, but also stronger and with more stamina, so I didn't care.  By 35 I'd grown out of my size 10 clothes, and accepted that I was now a size 12.

My husband and I spent a year in Riga, Latvia, walking everywhere.  Despite indulging freely in the local pastries and readily available Scandinavian chocolates--Daim bars!  Marabou!  Dumle!--I lost 20 pounds.  I was still a size 12, but my pants tended to hang off my hips, clothes that had been tight were now loose, and I crudely took in a few skirts by folding the waistband over an inch and sewing it down.  Then we came home, and I put the weight back on.  Then I lost a chunk of it.  Then my mom died, and I put some back on.  Then we adopted, and I lost some again, chasing after kids and playing tag.  Through all of this, I was still a size 12.

This year, however, I started to put on some more weight.  Clothes became uncomfortable.  I popped the (riveted!) button off my favorite pair of jeans.  I started noticing lines on my skin when I took my clothes off at the end of the day.  I began to favor knits and anything with an elastic waistband.  As spring rolled into summer, I decided that since I would be more active in the summer, I should not buy any new clothes in size 14.  That way, I wisely figured, I'd be even more inspired to lose the weight, so my clothes would be comfortable once more.

Then the hot spell hit. Day after day it's been in the 90s.  I live in western Oregon, we don't have air conditioning, and this is HOT.  I pulled out my shorts the other day and couldn't even get them past my thighs.  I have plenty of elastic waisted skirts, but the day I found myself picking raspberries in a skirt, I decided I may as well buy a cheap pair of shorts.  Goodwill, so I wouldn't be straining resources because of my temporary flirtation with chubbiness.

Today I grabbed two grocery bags of donations, made special dispensation for the kids to have extra computer time, and headed off by myself to find a pair of shorts that fit.  I steered myself towards the "Large" section, then realized it went up to size 12.  Extra large?  Really?  I pulled some 14s and the occasional 16 off the rack, and headed to the dressing room.

14's, like my size 12 shorts, couldn't force their way past my thighs.  16s could, but  pushed rudely against my skin when I (breath held) zipped them up.  The first pair of capris I tried on that were comfortable were size 18.

Size 18.  X-Large.  "Women's" section of the store.

I have friends who would kill to get down to a size 18.  I have a coworker who is on a crazy diet where for 3 out of every 4 weeks she is on 500 calories a day, and she has gone from over 300 pounds to 200 in the same amount of time I've put on 40 pounds.  One of my dearest, oldest friends, who has faced more shit in her lifetime than anyone ever should have to, is trying to do the same thing in a more measured, sustainable fashion.  I can still fit in a regular seat, still find clothes at a regular store.


This flies in the face of my self image.

Which is interesting, because the rage my children call up in me also flies in the face of my self image.

And here's the thing:

If I were to gain another 3 sizes next year, but finally master the Scary Mean Mommy in me, I would be so happy and proud and relieved and self confident.

But if I were to get back to a size 12, and continue to have periodic bouts of insane, borderline abusive parenting, I might feel less shame.

Because people don't know what happens in my house.  But they sure as hell can tell the difference between a woman who has "let herself go" and one who "takes good care of herself."

And that's kind of fucked up.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Casual Saturday

It's got to be a seriously hot day in Oregon before this Mama goes commando.

Just sayin'.

Friday, July 11, 2014


The kids were eager to hit the pool.  I didn't mind driving them across town to the pool with a slide and diving board, because the only good day Oak had during the week he spent at the rec center day camp was the day he (astoundingly) passed the swim test and got to go off the diving board.  His crawl stroke is mostly thrashing around, and he takes on so much water that he can't make it far.  But he had somehow managed 25 yards of it, plus a return lap on his back, and couldn't stop smiling all evening.  I wanted to see it for myself. 

As soon as we got in, he found a lifeguard to watch him.  It was Open Swim, so the pool was crowded, and the lane lines were set up perpendicularly across the route he was supposed to swim.  I heard another kid ask if they were allowed to dog paddle, and the lifeguard said nope, you had to get your arms out of the water.  I wondered if he'd be able to make it again.  Oh ye of little faith.  He killed it.  KILLED IT.  Even more exciting, his eyes sought mine across the mass of bodies--he wanted Mama to witness his success.  I clapped above my head, and we both beamed. 

He joined the group in line at the diving board, and after watching the first few leaps, I was able to focus on Linden.  She had totally forgotten her swim lessons, and kept sinking when she tried to steamboat.   We played and bounced, and after I demonstrated what she was doing, she figured out how to correct it.  We took lots of breaks to go down the slide, bob under water, watch her brother cannonball off the diving board, etc.  I went over once to go off the diving board.  Thinking of my summer of firsts, I jumped high instead of quietly stepping off as usual.  I plunged to the very bottom of the 12 foot pool, and felt a bit panicky as I paddled back up for air.  That was enough of that. 

But after an hour, the lifeguards congregated at the deep end and put the diving boards up.  Could it be?  Yes!  They were lowering the rope.  A simple rope, with two knots in it, held up by a quite complex system of pulleys and cords.  THIS would truly be a first.  I got in line behind two twenty-something Spanish speaking ladies.  We exchanged grins, noticing that the rest of the line was in the 9-12 age range.  Oak twisted around and made amazed faces at me.  I was focused on watching others' technique.  Grab onto the rope above the first knot.  Rest feet against lower knot.  Drop at the high point of the swing.  I worried about my ability to get my feet in the right place, but also about my ability to hold myself up by just my arms.  A few people dropped unceremoniously into the pool at the low point in their arc because of that issue.  My son and mi amigas did great. 

Then it was my turn to stand on the deck.  The lifeguard used his shephard's hook to bring the rope to me.  I grasped it firmly above the knot, then jumped.  My feet didn't hit the lower knot, but it turned out to be easy to rest them against the rope for extra support.  I swung out over the water, then dropped into it.  Splash!  I came up laughing. 

I took two more turns, much to Oaks' chagrin.  "Mom, why do you keep getting in line?!?"  he said to me, half laughing, half whining. 

"Because it's FUN!"  I told him.  "You can pretend you don't know me...oh wait, too late!"  I laughed again. 

The first two times, my focus was on holding on to the rope, then letting go at the right time.  The third time I was comfortable enough to actually pay attention to the swinging part, watching the world (or at least the rec pool portion of the world) swoop by.  I was giddy with delight, but Linden was getting tired of entertaining herself, so I went back to her.

The end of Open Swim drew near.  I decided to take one more swing on the rope.  This time I landed funny, and felt a familiar jolt of pain in my neck.  I got to the side and tried to look casual as I scooted along the edge to the ladder.  I have enough trouble hauling myself over the side of a pool when I'm not in pain.  I even went down the slide with Linden one more time before we headed to the showers.  But hair washing was hard, and that night I had trouble sleeping because I couldn't turn over without waking up and manually turning my head. 

Still.  The neck ache healed in another day or so.  The memory of flying through the air remains, as does my pride in the delightful mix of embarrassment and awe my antics caused my pre-teen.  I'm less than a month in, but I know this is one of the highlights of my Summer of New.

What is something silly you've tried lately?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dinner Alone

Today's new adventure was unplanned.

It was a fairly typical summer day.  The kids and I woke up on the back porch.  We don't have AC for the same reason we don't have a snowplow attachment on our pickup--the weather here requires such things so rarely that when we do get extreme heat or snow, it's exciting and new, and we just enjoy it.  I made breakfast.  I supervised some chores.  I told my dozing husband that I was taking the kids to therapy.  While one kid worked on their crap with our therapist, I took the other across the street to the French bakery for a treat and some summer workbook time.  When I switched kids, we got so caught up in the treat and workbook that we suddenly had the other kid and our therapist standing next to our table.  "Ack!" I sputtered, glancing at the clock behind me.  Yep, we were late.

"It's okay!" she assured me.  "Linden knew you guys would be here, and she wanted to come on her own, but I told her I'd come with her."

I took them to the mall--a first in itself, now that I think of it--where we picked up some supplies at the teacher/homeschool store and window shopped at the Lego Store and Build-a-Bear.  We talked about saving up our allowances for Legos (Oak), a stuffed pony (Linden) and yard darts (me--they're not as deadly as the yard darts of my youth, but I still want them).  We ran another errand, then headed home, where I made everyone lunch.  We got out the new watercolor pencils and started drawing.  After nearly two blissful hours of near-harmony, I sent them out to wash the car.  I knew this wouldn't be the most environmental or economical carwash ever, much less the most thorough, but our car couldn't possibly look worse, and the kids love anything that blends water play and work--have fun AND feel virtuous?  What's not to love?

While they were occupied, I got to work on a long-neglected pile of dishes.

Those done, I headed upstairs and settled into the comfy chair in my bedroom with my laptop and the book I'm reading.  Before I'd quite figured out which I'd focus on, the Winemaker entered.  World Cup matches done for the day, he was ready to get to work on power washing the deck.  "Can you help me move the patio furniture?" he asked.  I did the not-actually-inaudible sigh and shoulder droop that one uses to signify I really don't want to, but I'm too polite to whine.   He said, "Are you busy?"

"I'm not busy," I said, resignedly.  "It's just that I've been busy all day."

"Okay," he replied.  "Let's just do it later."

Suspecting the passive agressiveness with which I would be capable of saying such a thing, I started to go into a no it's okay, really spiel, but he was already walking down the stairs, cheerful as you please.

So I went back to the comfy chair.

About 10 minutes later he was back, and I prepared myself to get up and help out.

"I'm taking the kids to Taco Bell and then Tae Kwon Do," he said.  "See you in a couple of hours."

I think I'm in love.  (With the same guy as always, which is both convenient and miraculous.)

And that's how I wound up on the deck, in the fresh evening air, having half a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream before dinner (!), and then having stir fried kale & carrots, mozzarella with fresh picked basil, and a glass of wine, all by myself. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer of New

How's that for a grammatically troubling title?

Remember when I was going to #cleanonething each day?  Ha!  That pretty much lasted 3 days or so.  I am tempted to go back and erase that post, but that would be dishonest.  And if I'm going to succumb to laziness, I figure I should at least try to uphold a little dignity in the honesty department.  So I'm on to something new.  No, I do not have ADD, why do you ask? 

I feel like goals have been an issue for me lately.  I mean, I can obviously reach big life goals.  I got an undergraduate degree.  I got into Peace Corps.  I got a graduate degree, and a job, and for fuck's sake, I adopted two kids.  Marilla and Matthew may have sent off for a farmboy and wound up with the daughter of their heart* (that sounds creepy since they were siblings,  but you know what I mean), but in this day and age, nobody adopts without being VERY focused on reaching that goal.  Also, I've climbed a few mountains.  I've even taught middle school for fifteen years without ever ONCE killing a student, not even a little bit.  So I like to think I'm a capable person in many regards.  And yet...

Teachers set yearly professional goals.  I imagine it's somewhat the same process all over the country.  You set two "SMART" goals, discuss them with your administrator, then come back at the end of the year and discuss how you did.  I have always chosen goals I cared about and made enough progress on them to end up feeling good about myself.  This year we were given our goals.  Yup. One goal was specifically given to the whole teaching staff, and for the other goal, our department was informed what to focus on, and we had to write one together for all of us.  I promptly forgot about one of the goals, and struggled mightily with the other.  At the end of the year, this had an adverse affect on my evaluation.  To be more specific, I had the first mediocre evaluation of my teaching career.  Blech.  There are plenty of other factors involved, but still, it stung. 

Then there's the weight thing.  Blame it on perimenopause, blame it on depression around my dad's death, whatever--I have gained an impressive amount of weight this year.   In a weird way I was even enjoying it.  "Wow, I'm BIG!"  But then I outgrew all of my pants, which was distressing.  So I joined Weight Watchers through my work.  And forgot to attend most of the meetings.  And did not follow the program.  And continued to steadily gain weight. 

Which brings me to my goal.  I came across an article about a man who was doing something new every day for a year.  He'd realized that his holiday letter from 2011 was virtually interchangeable with his holiday letters from five and ten years earlier and decided he needed to shake things up.  He did things like skydiving, riding a mechanical bull, or starting a fire by rubbing sticks together.  (I am probably combining several of the "one new thing a day" folks, but they all seem pretty adventurous.)  I liked the idea, but I know myself well enough to know there's no skydiving in my future.  I also know my life well enough to know there may be things I'd be willing to try, but the current family and financial situation would make them difficult or unrealistic.  Then I came across a few blogs--not by people who'd written books or been interviewed on national talk shows--in which they recorded new things such as walking counterclockwise on a route they'd always done clockwise, or sitting in the "wrong" spot at the dining room table.  And I thought, "I can do that." 

I decided to do one new thing a day for the summer.  This was on about June 25th, but as luck would have it, I could think of a new thing I'd done each day already, starting with speaking at a memorial service on June 21st.   So far I've been enjoying it.  I've had to stretch a bit to come up with a "new thing" on some of my quieter days, but I've also stretched in terms of trying actual new things a few times.  Plus--bonus!--while I don't plan on blogging every little thing, some of the more challenging items will give me something to blog about (now that it's summer and I have time to write...)

Some of my ideas:  write fiction, swim laps (I used to do that, but not in over 20 years, so I think it counts), go bouldering, make some new recipes, make and freeze meals ahead of time, show up 10 minute early everywhere for a day, spend a day listening to radio stations I'd normally avoid, do a 72 hour sugar fast (nervous about this idea!), figure out how to download books from the library...feel free to share either suggestions, or new things you've tried lately!

*If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm not sure I want to be friends with you.**

**On second thought, it just means you need an introduction to Anne.  This is a rare case when I'd even recommend the mini-series if you're not a fiction reader.  Seriously, my macho brother-in-law LOVED the show.  

I'm a Thunderegg.

I’ve always been average-looking.   Not a face to turn heads, but not one to make small children cry either.   This means, of course, that for most of my adolescence I considered myself hideously ugly.  Middle school was particularly rough.  My mom made most of my clothes, I spent lunch hour in the library reading Anne McCaffery’s Dragon Song series and Agatha Christie mysteries, and I sang bass in the school choir, because my singing voice was deeper than most of the boys’.  I could give your more examples—or a completely different set—but either you know exactly what I mean, or you never will. 

Things started looking up in high school.  Overt cruelty became uncouth, for one thing, and I had the good fortune to attend a public school where getting into a four year college was the expectation, not an exception.  Suddenly, being a serious student was cool again.  I joined the swim team and made a good group of friends.   I applied for a short-term exchange program, and the summer I turned 16, off I flew to an island suburb of Bergen, Norway.

I had a fabulous time.  My host sister, Judith (Yoo-deet), and I became instant friends, which is fortunate, as we spent six solid weeks in each other’s company.  I saw fjords and glaciers and the midnight sun.  I shopped at Benetton and got a hot pink and black checked sweater AND a hot pink jumpsuit (it was 1985; what can I say?).  Judith and I walked down to the gas station and bought double decker ice cream cones, pistachio and chocolate, and listened to Springsteen singing “Jersey Girl” on the jukebox.  I learned how to say “good dog!” in Norwegian, and said it constantly to their sweet Burmese Mountain dog.  We took a ferry to Stavanger, and I bought a hand-knit sweater from a little old lady; a sweater I still break out every December.  I toured stave churches, and we watched Dallas on their VCR and Eurovision on their TV.  We went into town and saw Amadeus in the theaters, then hitchhiked back because we’d missed the bus.  (I was terrified, which amused her.)  The family made me a wonderful birthday cake, all whipped cream and fresh fruit, and I didn’t even miss my parents as we celebrated.   After I’d been there a month, Judith and I got weepy every time we remembered I’d be leaving soon. 

Somewhere in the midst of that delightful summer, I was dashing down the stairs of their home when I saw a familiar face.  I felt a jolt of happy recognition.  Sure, I was having the time of my life, but it was the first time I’d ever been so far away from the known.  I’d always taken a friend to summer camp with me; all my other travels had been with my family; I’d lived in one house my entire life.  So when I saw someone I recognized from home, I had a flash of sheer joy.

It was my own face in a mirror.

As soon as my brain identified that dear, familiar, face, I had an epiphany; one that has never left me.  To those who love me, my face is beautiful.  The affection I felt for that sweet little recognizable face is something like what my family and friends would feel if they ran into me unexpectedly.  Not “Wow, she sure has big earlobes,” or “That left eye is a bit squinty, isn’t it?” or “I guess she’s never heard of eyebrow shaping.”  Just, “Hey!  There’s Wendy!  Yay!” 

I pressed on through all those years, into what I currently recognize as my life.  I have days when I feel pretty, days when I feel hideous, and weeks when I don’t really think about my looks one way or another.  Only one person has ever really fallen for me, but since it’s the one person I fell hard for, it’s quite enough.  I smile for cameras like I was born to it.  I wear my bathing suit in public despite having put on 40 pounds in the past three years.  I wore a burgundy and silver gown to my wedding, because white makes me look more corpse-like than bridal, and I figured it was more about feeling beautiful than following “rules.”  

Then I adopted a little girl.  A very pretty little girl.  One who is fascinated with Barbie.  One who begs for earrings, and make-up, and heels,