Annual Year End Recap 2013

This is my fifth (non consecutive) year doing Linda's year end recap.  For a little history, here's 2008, 2009. 2010 and 2011.  It appears that I skipped it last year, I guess?

If you do this meme too, put a link in the comments. I'd love to read yours!

1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?
I said goodbye to my dad.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't make new year's resolutions. The key to happiness is low (or no!) expectations!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Good friends here in town had a baby boy, who I plan to steal someday.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
My dad.

5. What countries did you visit?
None! Let's fix that!

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
A sense of peacefulness in parenting my oldest, the ability to let go a little more with my youngest.

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
February 13, the day my dad died.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Giving my dad's eulogy, without (massively) crying.

9. What was your biggest failure?
It is always the same, every single year: losing my temper. Each and every time it happens I think: who is this monster?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My new iphone is so much faster than my old one. But techinically my husband bought it for me for my birthday.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My mom. The way she cared for my dad during his final months, the way she grieves for him AND slowly rebuilds her life without him is a lesson in love and strength.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Anthony Wiener, Rob Ford, George Zimmerman.

14. Where did most of your money go?
It's the same every year:  mortgage, insurances/taxes, preschool, Wegmans, Target, Amazon. 

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Gay marriage. This civil right will stop being newsworthy someday and I'm so excited for that.

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
Brave. This video, you guys, I dare you to watch it and NOT want to get up and dance.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Happpier!  Thank you Pr0zac!
b) thinner or fatter?  Fatter!  Thank you Pr0zac!  And cookies!
c) richer or poorer? The same? I think?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Writing. Exercising.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Same as every year: "Lost my temper. Curled inward instead of reaching outward."

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At our home with my mom visiting for the week. It was a quiet, lovely time with her and it was good to be together for this first Christmas without my dad.

21. Did you fall in love in 2013?
Just the usual, daily falling in love with my family.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
The New Girl. Orange is the New Black. Modern Family. Nashville (SHUT IT).

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
"Hate"? Blech.

24. What was the best book you read?
OOh. Pressure! I'm going to go with "The Fault in Our Stars", "Me Before You" and "The Secret Keeper".

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I love me some Macklemore.

26. What did you want and get?

27. What did you want and not get?
Just a little more time with my dad.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
We NEVER go to the movies so I'm uniquely UNqualitifed to answer this question but I did really like "Gravity" for the sheer spectacle of it.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 41 on Thanksgiving and spent the day in that unmistakeable downward sickness spiral. You know the kind, where you slowly but surely get sicker by the hour and you just KNOW that it's going to get worse. BLECH.

Do over, please?

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I said this two years ago: "a professional organizer to snap our house into shape." And it couldn't be more true now that we have TWO MORE YEARS WORTH OF CRAP IN OUR HOUSE.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Braces on my teeth! A brace around my midsection! Let's just brace EVERYTHING.

32. What kept you sane?
Pr0zac, exercise, the Brave video, reading, family and friends.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
In response to a Blathering question, I said Mark Ruffalo, who will always have my heart after "13 going on 30". However, I would like to get in line for Paul Rudd. 

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Gay marriage in New Jersey and so many other states! I knew this would happen in my lifetime but I didn't think it would happen this quickly!

35. Who did you miss?
My dad.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
My friends' baby boy.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
The time to talk to your parents is now. Tell them you love them now. The time is now.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
"Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is"

-Brave, Sara Bereilles

Happy New Year everyone!


Book Report - part two

Oh, man.

Do I still have a blog? Does blogger ever just revoke your entire blog due to inactivity?

I've been overwhelmed with parenting lately, my friends. Like, I-think-I-need-to-go-back-to-therapy- overwhelmed. And the older my kids get, the less I feel I can blog about it. It's true what they say about little kids, little problems, big kids, BIG PROBLEMS. So.


On to happier things! LIKE BOOOOOKKKS.

What have you read lately and loved? What book would you give to your best friend, assuming your best friend likes to read what you like to read because what else would you look for in a best friend?

SPILL IT, dear readers. I need some good new books (and tips on what to avoid).


I'm finally going to steal the format of Ms. Hillary over at Not Raising Brats. Instead of listing books chronologically based on when I read them, I'm listing them based on my recommendation level. I'm too late to recommend books you should request from Santa but maybe the big guy gave you a bookstore gift card?

Beg, borrow, or buy (Don't steal. Stealing's bad.)

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon

One of my only non-fiction reads of the year, this rumination on parent/child difference riveted me. In each chapter, Solomon tells us stories of exceptional children, from prodigies to schizophrenics, and how their parents learn to navigate the challenges and unexpected rewards of parenting someone very different from themselves. There are lessons here for all parents. For all humans. Read it.

American Wife: a novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

I'm going to be honest here: I really, REALLY disliked George Bush as a president. But I always found his wife to be inherently kind and quietly smart, which confused me - what did she see in him? So I was curious about this fictional take on her life and took Marie Green's recommendation of this book to heart. Many of the basic plot points are familiar - most famously, the jokey, overly confident husband who surprises everyone by becoming president! - but the details, the personalities, the complex emotions of each character were so well done. I felt like the marriage of George and Laura made sense all of a sudden. I even came to - almost - like George W.! Now THAT'S a writing accomplishment! An engrossing read, especially if you like romance or politics or both.

Heft by Liz Moore

Arthur Opp lives alone in his cluttered, dilapidated house of which he only sees the ground floor. You see, he's morbidly obese and hasn't left the house in years. He corresponds with a former student, manages to hire a housecleaner and hopes for his luck to magically change. Does it? Not a lot. But enough. This book about loneliness and sorrow and grief has a heart of hopeful gold.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

I LOVED the narrator/heroine in this coming-of-age novel. A teenage girl arrives at a Southern boarding school expecting to leave behind a complex family history, but instead encounters new challenges from her classmates and teachers. An intelligent, sensual, envy-enducingly awesome first novel.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Perhaps nothing by Ms. Rowell will ever surpass the glory of Eleanor and Park but this was a great read in its own right. It's a love story for our age: a man in charge of reading his fellow co-workers' emails finds himself drawn to the exchanges of one female co-worker in particular. To fall in love over email is not so strange, but to fall in love over email the other person doesn't know you're reading? Well, that's new and strange and full of romantic comedy potential that Ms. Rowell exploits perfectly.  *insert heart symbol here*

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

I didn't love Ms. Morton's "Forgotten Garden." In fact, I believe I called it "forgettable."  But this novel, MAN, I loved this one. A young girl watches her gentle mother kill a mysterious stranger and many years later tries to unravel the mystery of who and why. We meet her mother as a young woman, a middle-aged mother, a dementia suffering grandmother. Sweeping, compelling, put-up-your-feet-and-turn-off-your-phone enjoyable.

Maybe, if they're cheap, your library list is short or the premise really floats your boat.

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

This YA novel follows an unnaturally empathic British teenager as she tries to unravel the mystery of her father's American friend who has gone missing. If you love YA mysteries, go for it.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity
Almost 40 year old Alice slips and hits her head after a spin class and suddenly she's 29 again, still in love with her husband and awaiting the birth of her first child. Imagine her surprise when she discovers she has three kids, is about to be divorced, and has become a person she doesn't recognize. I loved the premise but the ending felt off.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

A childless elementary school teacher longs to be a world famous artist and befriends a beguiling foreign family who seem to have grasped every brass ring she lacks. She falls in love with each of them in turn, which becomes her undoing. It's a dark novel and though I believed in every character and every twist the story took, I felt sorry for them and sad by the end. Read it if you really don't mind disagreeable main characters.

The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

I borrowed this after hearing that Anne Lamott reportedly read it in one sitting. I didn't read it in one sitting but this tale of a marriage disintegrating into murder did keep my attention. My problem? I really couldn't stand either character and the writing sometimes stalled. If you loved "Gone Girl," you'll probably dig it.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Would you call this novel - about a time-traveling serial killer, his magically menacing house, and the girl he couldn't kill - science fiction, historical fiction, or horror? How about all three! I couldn't read this book at night before bed because I have the delicate psyche of a newborn Christmas elf. But if you love scary stuff, this was very well done.

Carry On Warrior by Glennon Melton

Quick, powerful, engaging. However, I did wonder just what she left out, glossed over or changed to suit her narrative. Go for it if you love her blog or really enjoy religious-y self-help.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

I loved "Eat, Pray, Love" and I'm not embarrassed to say it. So I was extra excited to read this more highly esteemed historical novel about a female botanist who winds her way to evolutionary theory at the same time as Darwin. What was not to love about this premise? Well, it was beautifully written but I found it slow, tedious, boring at times. I don't know. Maybe I was just grumpy and needed a nap.

I'd go with NO.

Grave Mercy/Insurgent/Allegiant

Hey, you might like these but apparently I'm just not into most Science Fiction-y things.


"Take a breath. Start again."

I say this to the girls on a regular basis. When they're too frustrated to see clearly. When their thinking is clouded by self-doubt. When they forget that they are capable, good-hearted people.

I'm saying it to myself a lot lately.

It's not a news flash to anyone that this parenting gig is impossibly hard. And yet I find myself amazed at just how complex and challenging it is to raise these little human beings. Every day I fear the time for character development is already behind us, that I have failed them in some major, irretrievable way.

Suddenly my seven year old seems so big. So separate. So OLD.

I've never been interested in regrets, as it's clearly unhealthy to spend too much time thinking about them, but I sometimes lie awake and think about what I would do differently with her. Sometimes, especially late at night, I hunger to go back in time and try again.

There are many things that I would do differently but mostly this: every time I've stood in front of my child, filled frustration and fear, I would pause, breathe, and walk away instead of opening my mouth.

It feels so necessary at the time - CLEARLY I NEED TO SAY SOMETHING TO FIX THIS - but it isn't. It just isn't.

Since I don't have the option of taking anything back or starting anything over, I will do this.

I will take a breath. I will start again.



Last year, the girls' Halloween costumes took forever. They decided in early September they wanted to be cardinals and I patiently waited several weeks in the hope they would change their minds to something easier.

They didn't.

Since there were no pre-made cardinal costumes to be found, I got on Pinterest (cue ominous music) and went about making some. I chose assorted red fabric, bought and returned several red sweatshirts, and found little synthetic red feathers that are still turning up in various corners of our house one year later.

The costumes took weeks to make. Every day and every night, I spent all my free time cutting and laying out and sewing.

Due to a freak October snow storm, several parties and our local parade were all canceled and pretty much everyone gave up on Halloween that year. The girls wore their very pretty, very labor intensive bird costumes for exactly two hours while they trick-or-treated to dark unwelcoming houses in our  neighborhood.

I felt gypped. I had worked so hard! The costumes were awesome! NO ONE APPRECIATED ME.

Is that why I did it? To be appreciated?

This year, the girls decided to be Laura and Mary Ingalls (Z insisted on being Laura "because she's the coolest" and E refused to be "BABY Carrie" so she was officially Mary and it's all a little confusing so don't think too hard about it.) It turned out we already had one dress and bonnet that worked for Z, we borrowed a gorgeous handmade dress from Marie Green, bought a few bonnets off Amazon and VOILA.

CG and I even got in on the act.

It was fun. It was easy. 

I so appreciated it.


A couple of weeks ago I stood up in church during joys and concerns (a time when congregants can ask for a stone to be dropped into a bowl of water in honor of their life's milestones), opened my mouth and out came this:

"When my dad died last February, someone told me my grief would ebb and flow. This is one of those flow weeks. So if you would drop a stone for me and anyone else who is having a flow week."

I spent the rest of the service weeping on and off.

Then this past week, a local girl died after a year long battle with brain cancer. It was all over the local news and her memorial was held in a high school so thousands could attend.

Many of my friends changed their Facebook profile pictures to her image or a golden ribbon in her honor and I was so moved by the increasing numbers of gold ribbons in my Facebook feed.

But I didn't do the same.

I just kept thinking of the day people will change their profile picture to something else. All those matching images of her will slowly but surely disappear like the tide going out.

I just couldn't bear making that decision myself.

Grief will ebb and flow. How much do we control that ebb with our thoughts? Our actions?

Last October, we were wondering what was going on with my dad. His cancer was in remission. But no one could figure out why he was still having bizarrely debilitating symptoms.

Last October, a little girl and her family were struggling with terrible news.

By this October, they would both be gone.

By next October, we will be remembering them still. In our hearts if not in our Facebook feeds.


Halloween night, 1981.

I was carving my first ever pumpkin with my family. I scooped out the fleshy insides, slimy and pungent in my bare hands.

I was rushing, ready for the next part, thinking about how we would watch "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" when we were done. I didn't wash or wipe my hands before picking up the paring knife.

I grasped the knife for my very first cut, pressing hard, and my palm slid down the knife in one smooth, horrible instant. The knife cut through skin, muscles and deeper still and I don't remember much after that except my mother washing my hand in the sink, calling to my dad it was bad and we had to go to the hospital.

I had surgery and months of physical therapy to remedy the injury and didn't carve a pumpkin again until I was an adult.

Every year since I first became a mom, I've nervously envisioned carving a pumpkin with my kids. I was sure I would help them learn from my mistakes, with careful hand washing and painstaking knife skills.

Then, two years ago, when it first seemed possible, I bought one of those ubiquitous pumpkin carving kits and realized with a start that my kids would never have to carve a pumpkin with a paring knife. They would use these tiny serrated non-knives with dull tips, no doubt borne from years of kids like me appearing in ERs across the country.

My kids carved pumpkins this year and while they worked, I told them the story of the scars on my hand. They stared and then marvelled at me when I told them how I rushed and hurt myself.

How could you have cut yourself so badly, mom?

Last week, I was teaching in Sunday school and arrived early to set up the day's activities. The pre-k kids were going to have a sensory bin with open pumpkins and spoons for them to scoop and play.

I was running late.

(There seems to be theme here.)

I picked up an old, dull paring knife and proceeded to hurriedly hack away at the top of a pumpkin, trying to open it up quickly so I could move on to the next thing.

Something in me, something like wisdom, rose to the surface. I paused. I took a step back and looked at what I was doing.

I went slower. I didn't finish as quickly as I wanted to.

It didn't matter.

Maybe my kids will not have to learn from my mistakes. But maybe I will.


Girly Girl

Fall 1997
Bambi stood out from the very beginning. It might have been her bright red wig, or maybe it was her garish makeup. Or it could have just been the fact that she was at least a foot taller than all the other women in our class of would-be massage therapists.

Whatever it was, from day one, we all knew she had once been a man without her having to say anything.  But say something she did.

“Don't you love my boobs?” she whispered to me on the first day, punctuating her sentence, as she often did, with a forced, high-pitched giggle. The whole class was huddled closely together, intently watching a Swedish massage demonstration while Bambi happily felt herself up.

"Um. Sure?" I said and kept my eyes studiously trained on the body on the massage table rather than the one next to me.

"My doctor was the best! Do you want to feel them?"

"I'm sure. And no thanks."

Her shirts were cut low, her skirts high. She protested on the first day of class when they told her she'd have to lose her long red fingernails and many rings and bracelets.

She was not exactly the picture of the studious massage therapy student I had hoped would be my cohort. I was offended that she didn't seem to be taking our classes seriously, but I tried extra super hard not to judge her harshly. After all, I had moved to liberal San Francisco for a reason: everyone is accepted there.


As other students shied away from working with her, some subtly, others not so subtly, I was often paired with her. This was fine, after all I was - I wanted to be - open-minded. Surely there must be someone real underneath all her hyper-feminine bluster, I thought. So even though her parade of stereotypical feminine behaviors grated on me, I didn’t resist when she sat next to me during lectures or sought me out to practice a technique.

Which is how I came to be considered her closest friend in class, and when she overheard me offering a ride to someone else, she was quick to jump on board.

“Jenna, can you take ME home, too?” she said sweetly, batting her lashes at me like a cartoon vixen.

Which is how I came to drive her to and from our massage school for months.

“Why don’t you wear any makeup?” she asked me one morning, squinting her brightly lined eyes at me as we inched our way across the Bay Bridge.

“I don’t like it,” I answered, my plain eyes on the road. “It’s artificial. It feels funny on my face and between massage school, dance classes and working at the tea shop, I'm always sweating it off anyway.”

She laughed at me, her girlish giggle ringing loudly in my little Civic. “That just means you’re doing it wrong. I can help you with that, we just need to find the right kind of foundation and powder.”

“Foundation AND powder? BLECH, no thanks,” I said. “Makeup is just not for me. Look at me. I'm not much of a girly girl.”

She laughed her true deep belly laugh then. "Well, honey, lucky for you, I AM!"


When Z was born, I was adamant that she not live in a puffy pink world. We registered for a green car seat and a tan Pack-n-Play, a blue bouncer and a yellow Boppy. I wanted her to have an entire world of color, rather than one slender piece of the color-wheel pie determined by a limited and limiting view of girls.

(Have I ever mentioned I went to one of the Seven Sisters colleges? Where they basically pipe Women's Studies into the dorm room air?)

This rigidity lasted a few months, until I got tired of correcting people when they - without fail - assumed she was a boy. I finally, resignedly, dressed her in the flowery pink onesies we'd been given just to stop the constant misunderstandings and mis-assumptions, but I continued to be interested how differently people treated her when she was dressed more like a boy.

As she grew, we bought her trainsets and Legos and, reluctantly, baby dolls. Despite our allowing a pink flood of girly things into our home, she never really embraced the princess craze like many of her friends, and she exclusively wore dresses for awhile only because she couldn't stand to wear anything with a waistband. She has always had short hair and likes it as short as possible to limit the number of times I tell her to brush it. No clips, no headbands. Her favorite colors were yellow and orange for years and they have been red, black and white for over a year now.

In short, she is not a girly girl, and she embraces that.

I embrace it too; in fact, some days it feels like a triumph. Other days I think if I hear one more kid tell her her red sneakers are "boy shoes" or her hair is “short like a boy,” I will scream.

We’ve been battling a little lately, much to my chagrin, over her clothes and hair.

Sometimes, I tell her, it’s respectful to dress up a little. You don’t have to wear a fancy dress to Stella’s birthday party, but how about finding a shirt without a stain, a pair of shorts that actually fit you and brushing the obvious knots out of your hair?

I don’t care about my clothes, Mom, she’ll say. I don’t care about my hair.

I'm ashamed to say I worry about this. What will the other girls think? What will they say? Girls can be so mean and she struggles a little socially and wouldn’t it be easier for her if she looked just a little more clean and put together and, well, girly?

I tell myself that my insistence on stain-free clothes and brushed hair is really about teaching her what it means to be a good party-goer, a kind friend, a respectable person. But I wonder where the line is between a lesson in good personhood and a lesson in good womanhood. Would I be concerned about her appearance in the same way if she was a boy?

She looks to me for information about what it means to be a girl, to become a woman. What is expected. What is possible.

This is a heavy responsibility.


Spring 1998

Bambi stopped asking me if I wanted to see pictures of her vagina after I said no enough times. She stopped teasing me about my ugly comfort footwear when I asked her to. She stopped asking me about my favorite hairstyles when it became apparent I really didn't care much at all.

But she didn’t stop getting rides from me or pestering me about wearing makeup.

We got along fine, I guess, though we rarely spoke about anything serious. She wanted to talk about her boyfriends and the other surgeries she wanted and the latest fashion trends. She’d gossip about the private lives of people in our class endlessly but if I asked her anything too personal or deep about herself, she’d pointedly ignore me.

I was often struck by how dissimilar we were. With her endless talk of fashion and her flirtatious demeanor, it was like she had embraced all of my least favorite aspects of femininity. I was pretty sure she didn’t actually like me at all and was just using me for my car. I had gotten to know her enough to realize that the shallow, brittle persona on top actually ran rather deep or maybe it was so thick it rendered the serious, soft, thoughtful parts of her inaccessible. But I continued driving her to and from school out of habit, out of duty, as our course neared its end.

One day, a few weeks before our classes ended, she wasn’t waiting on her usual corner for me to pick her up.  I circled a few times before giving up and heading into class without her. She called me later, angry that I hadn’t waited for her.

“Girl,” she growled, “you are so stuck-up and mean sometimes.”

“Excuse me?! I’ve driven you to and from school for months without fail! I’ve never once been mean to you!”

“You should have waited for me.......And you should let me do your makeup so you stop looking like a greasy man.”

“Jeez, Bambi, drop it! I don’t need you, of all people, to tell me how to be a woman! What do you know about being a woman anyway?”

It was unfair and mean and what I’d been yelling inside my head for months.


E has embraced pink from day one.

Is this nature or nurture? Was she born this way or was she around more girlish things from the very beginning because of her sister, because she's the second, because we're more relaxed parents?

Does it matter why she loves pink?

She likes princesses and fairies and anything little, cute or pink. She's a different kind of kid from her sister. She's a different kind of girl.

I can't help but wonder if life won't be just a little bit easier for her than for her sister because she's more traditionally girly, because she adheres to those not-really-invisible rules a lot more closely than her sister.

This makes me sad. For both of them. For all of us.


Bambi and I lost touch immediately after school ended. It was mutual, I'm sure, and we never recovered after our one and only fight.

I wonder about her from time to time. Where is she now? How is she doing?

After years of feeling badly about our fight, about what I said, I have come to some peace with it. It's honest and true that Bambi didn’t know much about being a woman, she was, after all, in her infancy as a woman. At the time I met her, she’d observed and wondered from afar for years, but she’d only been able to embrace womanhood, to own it for herself, for less than a year. And like my daughters will as they get older, she was experimenting at the extreme edge of femininity. Does this behavior fit me? Am I like this stereotype at all? Do I like makeup? What does flirting feel like? Do I need to giggle all the time to be liked?

Of course, Bambi also has her own personal preferences. She's allowed to like makeup, just as much as I’m allowed to view it as a necessary and annoying evil. She’s allowed to like fashion, to giggle, to flirt. And I'm allowed to suck at all those things.

My relationship with Bambi taught me a lot but mostly this: I get to own what it means for me to be a woman, and Bambi gets to own what it means for her. We all get to chose. Including my girls. They will get to chose.

I will watch and wonder and hope.


Forever emptiness/wonderful moment

Like most of adult America, when I saw this Louie CK video on Facebook last week, it struck a nerve.

My kids aren't old enough to own cell phones (YET) so the power of this for me isn't about parenting, it's about my own practice of living. The nerve it struck resides close to that deep dark "forever empty" place inside me.

I've long struggled with using my phone in moderation around other people, and have drawn lines about when and how I use it in front of my children and with my husband and friends. But after watching this video, I was struck with sickening regret by how, when any quiet, private moment appears, I instinctively reach for my phone. Did anyone text, are there any new emails, what's going on on Twitter, who's updated Facebook, and on and on until it's been half an hour and this happens multiple times a day. So on Friday I thought, okay, anytime I sit down and have a moment to myself I'll leave my phone in my pocket and just sit there and feel it. Whatever "it" is at that moment.

Exhaustion, frustration, resignation, boredom are all fine, manageable. Forever emptiness, less so.

And you know what? Forever emptiness feels like CRAP.

I don't want to feel the forever emptiness because it sometimes feels like it's more powerful than me, like it might swallow me whole. Honestly, I let it take over too often; it's a fun bonus feature of my porous, depressive personality. So perhaps I am hard wired to look for distractions, like reading novels, like fiddling with my phone, to fill quiet moments with something, ANYTHING.

When does something stop being a balm and start being a crutch?


On Sunday, I went to my groovy little church. The sermon centered on Thich Nhat Hanh's mindfulness teachings, on finding the calm center within us, not only in quiet peaceful moments but in the dark treacherous ones as well.

Of his many meditation practices, the minister highlighted this one:

Breathe in, present moment.
Breathe out, wonderful moment.

As tears rolled down my face, I knew I had something to focus my still moments. I have a well of strength inside of me to combat the forever empty. I can feel the sadness, but I can also press past it with the strength of my own positive intention.

Perhaps the quiet moments don't have to be filled with a phone, but they also don't have to be given over to sorrow.


I can't find my phone at the moment. It's somewhere in the house, I'm sure. Maybe in the laundry pile or wedged in the couch cushions or tucked in a sweatshirt pocket. It feels odd not to have it beside me. I rarely lose it these days because I am rarely far from it.

But I'm not rushing around trying to find my phone right now. It's okay. It'll turn up.

I relish the connection to friends and family and the thrumming pulse of the internet my phone gives me. I embrace the easy distraction, which at times can be a gift and a balm and, okay fine, sometimes a crutch.

A crutch can help us lurch through our days when we need it. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing after all. Keep moving forward, even if it's lurching, even if it's leaning on a crutch a little too heavily some days.

Moderation in anything isn't easy. But I don't think we need to throw away our smart phones any more than we need to stay glued to them at every possible moment. Nurturing our connection to the world is wonderful. Nurturing our connection to the strong peaceful part inside of us is also wonderful.

Present moment, wonderful moment.


Like me

She sits on the couch after school, feet tucked under her, staring intently at the book on her lap.  It's one of the many American Girl books that rest in teetering stacks on her bedside table.

I tell her it's time for snack and she ignores me. I say it again, this time touching her shoulder and she startles, blinking at me like I just appeared in this room we've been sharing for half an hour.

"Sorry Mom," she says, turning back to her book, "I just really need to finish this chapter."

I smile inwardly. Outwardly, too.

You love to read. I think to myself with satisfaction and pride.

We will share this love of books. We will pass books back and forth and reminisce about favorite characters and grieve together over especially sad plot points. We will argue about writers and eagerly await new publications and squeal like Taylor Swift fans if we ever meet a favorite author.

Be like me.


She can't find something she NEEDS.

(She often can't find something she "needs".)

It's imperative she finds it, the end of the world if it's gone forever, she can't possibly do anything else until it's back in her hands.

I encourage deep breaths, reminding her that being upset makes finding things more difficult.

When we find it, someplace she didn't remember ever putting it, I sigh with relief but we aren't done.

Now she's down on herself.

"I'm so stupid. A stupid, stupid girl. A stupid girl who always loses things. No one likes me because I'm so stupid...."

It pours out of her in a torrent.

As it washes over me, I struggle to breathe against its powerful, deeply familiar current.

"Z!" I finally break in, "Z, don't talk to yourself like that. Words are powerful and I don't want you to talk about yourself that way. Let's find another way to let out angry, yucky feelings."

Don't be like me.  Please, not in this way.



Life with a Capital L

It always surprises me when writing something down helps create change in my life. The process doesn't always feel dynamic in that way. Sometimes, it feels like I beep-beep-beep back my brain up to the computer, dump whatever's in there and drive away.

My last post not only cleared something out, but it left me clearer.

I didn't take the girls on adventures this summer, like I wanted to, like I intended to, not because Z is particularly challenging, but because I was scared. I was scared it would be emotionally messy. I was scared I couldn't handle it. I was scared my expectations for Fun with a Capital F wouldn't be met due to Emotions with a capital E.

After I wrote that post, I looked at our last week before school, our wide open, NO PLANS WHATSOEVER week, and made some plans. Because I can handle it. Or, even if I can't, I want to chose to muddle through in the spirit of adventure.

We went floating down the Shenandoah River on a perfect, gorgeous day and stopped for ice cream on the way home.

We had one last trip to the local outdoor water park where CG met us with pizza for dinner.

We spent the day at a lake in Maryland with some friends to picnic and swim and build a "dam".

I even took the girls, their dolls and a friend on their first trip to the American Girl Doll Store for lunch, hair styling and allowance spending. (And I only thought seriously about what my medal for that one would look like ONCE.)

The week was full of bumps. There were emotional melt-downs. There were many, many forcibly deep breaths.

But that's life, right? Bumps and deep breaths and even emotional meltdowns are to be expected, whether we are at home or off to a new place. So why not try the new places?

Because there was also fun. So much fun.

And I'm pretty sure the fun is what we'll remember most.


Summer, so far

Summertiiiiimmmmmmeee and the livin' is..... NOT SO EASY.

How's your summer been going? Have you gotten everything done on your to-do list? Can you find your to-do list in the piles of wet swim towels and "art projects" and very special leaf collections that are crumbling into dust and/or rotting into new life forms but are pressshhus and therefore cannot be touched?

Yeah. I'm looking forward to school like WHOAH.

Two more weeks. I think I can make it.

I had such high hopes for summer. I really did. More than anything, I was hoping it would be a relaxing time for Z after a somewhat stressful year in school.

I haven't blogged much this summer mostly because it has not been a great one for Z. She's had some good days but she's also had some really, really rough days, days when I worry our family is run by her anxiety and her mood swings and her many, many feeeeeelings. The constant changes of summer (One week of summer camp! Then a vacation! Then no camps and we're spending the week at home learning new chores!) were not a good thing for her. She chose each camp and I know she wanted to try a lot of different things but next summer, we'll insist that she chose one camp and do it for a long stretch. Less transitions are the key, I hope!

Here's how my plans for the summer played out:

1. Every night after dinner, the kids and I will sit down and write out a plan for the following day. That way we aren't just fumbling around in the morning in our pjs until someone gets inspired/stir crazy. We can, of course, have mornings where we stay in our pjs all morning but I'd like it to be a purposeful choice.

This was useful and I will do this again, especially for Z. On summer days, she used to constantly ask me what we were doing that day, that morning, that afternoon, that evening, and when it was written down for her, I didn't hear that question nearly as often. We didn't do it as often later in the summer but by then she wasn't as anxious about it.

2. Z will do her school summer reading challenge and we will schedule in reading time every week day.

Z finished the library's summer reading challenge early in the summer and is almost done with her school's reading challenge. I didn't wind up scheduling in reading time because she is an enthusiastic reader and I find her curled up with a book at random times. She often chose to read as a way to calm herself down when she got upset about something.

3. Z will also write something every day, whether it's the grocery list, a letter, a story, a journal entry, anything.

This is a lovely thought - a lovely thought I didn't enforce AT ALL. She is a less enthusiastic writer than reader, and is often frustrated by her penmanship and spelling. I figured that the more she reads, the better she'll write and I encouraged her to write at any and every opportunity. I just decided not to make it a THING.

We'll see how she fares once school starts up and she's required to write every day.

4. Both girls are going to learn how to do some more chores around the house this summer. They've chosen to learn how to do their laundry from start to finish and how to load and unload the dishwasher.  (I think I will need to reward us ALL with treats after working on these.)

I pretty much sucked at this.

We spent a week learning various parts of the laundry and dish washer processes. Unfortunately Z is not really tall enough to manage either skill and E is definitely not. By the end of the summer, I am still on sole laundry duty but they now have to put away their clothes every week. Instead of them clearing their dishes to the counter, they clean them into the trash (or dog food bowl) and then put them in the dishwasher.

It's better than nothing, I guess.

5. We'll have an adventure every week, of my choosing.

I didn't do this either! Whee!

I'm blaming Z for this one. Her behavior and mental state this summer didn't really support spontaneous adventures.

6. I'm going to ask the girls to pick a personal goal for the summer and then make a plan to reach that goal.

I did this! The girls picked goals! And.... didn't really do them!

Z decided she wanted to learn to play the ukelele. She bought one with an Amazon gift certificate for her birthday and we spent one afternoon trying to learn how to tune it with the help of youtube, to no avail. The fact that I have zero musical ability continues to haunt me.

E declared her desire to do laundry (we had just been discussing the chores we were going to do, so I'm pretty sure she was influenced by my FAKE enthusiasm for Tide.) She has helped quite a bit each week, but she is far from being able to do it herself. I plan on enlisting her help every week in sorting and folding the laundry though come fall instead of doing that by myself at night.

So. It's taken me over a week to write this post. I think that means I just need to move on, yes?

How's your summer been? Is it over already? Any tips on transitioning to the school year?

Bueller? Bueller?


The Hood


17th and Shotwell streets in San Francisco's Mission District is where you can find some of the best modern dance classes in the city. There, you can also find some of the saddest, most strung-out prostitutes.

I found this out the hard way one night, when walking back from a late night rehearsal, a man passed me and asked "How much?"

"How much?" I asked back, completely confused. But only for a moment.

He thought my body was for sale. I ran. He didn't pursue me but I felt .... unsafe.

Should I tell you I was wearing a spaghetti strap leotard and ripped pajama pants (my dancer uniform at the time)? Does that matter?

What about the fact that I had a hoodie pulled over my head?

I wore a hoodie most days when I walked to and from dance class or rehearsal, even when it was hot. I had seen plenty of the women he mistook me for and I wanted to distinguish myself from them, though I thought it was pretty clear. They were scantily clad (I tried to cover up.) They often had scabs on their faces and arms (I did not.) They carried nothing in their hands except for maybe their high heeled shoes (I always carried a huge bag full of clothes, towels and snacks.) But I was a young woman, walking alone in a certain part of the city and some men assumed they knew what that meant.

So I often wore a sweatshirt, with the hood pulled up over my head in a narrow cotton cave. Inside that protective hood, I knew who I was and I could shut the rest of the world - and their perceptions of me - out.

"Don't see me," my hoodie said. Or "Fine, see me but don't talk to me."

Sometimes my hoodie just said "I'm cold" or "I didn't wash my hair yet today" or "It's raining and I didn't bring an umbrella."



I was walking with my boyfriend in a fancy neighborhood in Berkeley California. We had left a friend's house party because we fighting, in fact, we should have broken up that night. He was disappointed that I hadn't dressed up for the party. I was sure this was sign of a huge, deal-breaking character flaw. (IT WAS.) I left the party in a huff. He followed and caught up with me. We didn't carry anything with us.

I was crying. Because I cry when I'm sad but also when I'm mad and frustrated and downright disgusted. He had his arm around me and told me I was overreacting, as usual. I wanted him to disappear but couldn't find the strength or the words to make that happen, as usual.

When I noticed the men walking toward us, alarm bells rang in my head. There were three of them, with heads down, hoodies pulled up. They were young, tall and black.

What part of that description seemed menacing, spelled "danger"? I don't know; it all happened so fast. As soon as they passed us, a little aggressively, not moving an inch in their path, forcing me and my boyfriend to weave off the sidewalk, I exhaled and mentally berated myself for my racism.

They're out for a walk, just like we are.

Then, I felt a hand on my shoulder.

Two of the young men held us while the other pointed a gun at my boyfriend and told us to freeze or they would shoot him. They wanted his wallet, his cell phone. He had neither with him.

They argued about what to do. They let go of me but I stood frozen on the spot where they left me, my head pointed down as if I was deeply studying a tiny ant on the sidewalk.

Even immediately afterward, I couldn't remember a single word they said.

They pushed us away, told us to walk fast and not look back. We walked a few blocks to the brightly lit shopping district and called the police.

We could only tell them that the men who attempted to mug us were young, tall and black. With hoodies on. It wasn't much to go on and the police never found them.

For months after, whenever I saw a black man with a hoodie, my heart would beat faster, my palms would sweat. I willed myself to stay calm but my fear was strong and clear and overwhelming. As a response to trauma, I guess it made sense.

But what about my initial fear of them? Was that intuition, a wise, protective gut-feeling that something bad was about to happen? Or was is racism, pure and simple?

Was it both?

Can it be both? 


I, like most of America, have been sifting through the layers of meaning of the George Zimmerman verdict. I keep turning over in my mind my own brushes with profiling and hoodies and violence, examining them from different angles.

I know there are interesting legal questions about the moment of the shooting and the Stand Your Ground Law. I know there are many people who say the verdict is reasonable given what the law allows.

I'm not terribly interested in that part (though I think Stand Your Ground is a poorly constructed, misguided, deeply problematic law.) What I'm interested in is the moment Mr. Zimmerman saw Mr. Martin. What did he see? What did he infer based on what he saw? How did those snap judgments inform every single action he took from there on out?

I realize we cannot try him for his racism. But we can try ourselves, can we not? Isn't that at least one small good thing that can come out of this? Shouldn't we all, especially those of us who are white and privileged, examine ourselves thoroughly?

What happens when you see someone else? What images, ideas, feelings go through your mind? Who do you see them to be? And how does that affect how you treat them?

Did George Zimmerman see a teenager walking home? Or did he see a hooded thug in search of trouble? I think it's pretty clear what he chose to see.

I will never know what it means to mother a young black man. But I am sickened and disappointed by this verdict and I can imagine the fear and frustration and rage that mothers of black boys feel. I make myself imagine it because it is the right thing to do.

I make myself imagine it so that next time I see a young black man with a hood, I will be more likely to see some one's son.


Brace Yourself

Dear Z,

I was thinking about you lot last week, as you went from being horribly sick and cranky with a stomach bug for four long days to having "the BEST, MOST AWESOME TIME EVER" building dams and sketching geese in your Nature Academy summer camp. To say it's been an up and down week would be an understatement and the ride of this week is as familiar to me as it was surprising.

(Life is about change. "Familiar" and "surprising" are not mutually exclusive.)

Of course, parenthood is a primer for dealing with change, but you specifically teach me about change - and my own resistance to it - every single day. Your moods are a rollercoaster with fast and unpredictable swoops; your behavior can be startlingly mature and wise one minute and hopelessly infantile the next. I am constantly pulled off axis by you but I want you to know that that is not your fault or responsibility. I know you're just learning how to operate this brain and body you've been given and it's my job as your parent to first find my own calm center and then help you find yours.

(I will be working on this for the rest of my life. I may or may not get any better at it than I am right now.)

When I was in my teens, I always thought that being an adult would be some pleasant plateau of existence. By adulthood surely I would have figured out who I am, why I'm here on this earth, what I want to do with my particular life's allotment of time and resources. Every passing year, I patiently wait for this self-actualized plateau to arrive.

(There is no plateau.)

Small things change all the time for me, still, at the ripe old age of 40. For instance, I recently discovered, after many, many years of loudly professing my love of drip dry hair, that I actually like to blow dry my hair. It looks so much better! I can actually do it pretty quickly! I don't have to wear a pony tail all day, every day! My identity shifted as a result, if only internally. At first I was embarrassed as if I was pretending to be someone else. I was worried I might suddenly need fancy manicures too or decide to wear heels every day. Now I've calmed down and assimilated it into who I am. I wear birkenstocks, I rarely wear makeup, I am not really into fashion and yet I sometimes blow dry my hair.

(Identities shift from time to time, if you let them. Don't be scared.)

Last week was rough for me in ways that were not related to holding a puke bowl for you at regular intervals. I was able to summon empathy when you were sick because I am, in fact, constantly aware of the frustrations associated with physical sensations as a result of two, count em TWO, braces I have on my body at the moment.

Two weeks ago, I got invisalign braces to correct the misalignment of my teeth that had gotten bad enough to cause my tongue to get stuck in my teeth on a semi-regular but deeply painful basis. Since I got them, I am constantly aware of my mouth, of how my voice sounds (hint: like a four year old with a lisp), of whether people can tell that I have them, of the constant pressure on my teeth. I don't like them, I don't like how they feel, I don't like how self-conscious I feel with them in. But I'm doing it. Because I need to. Because I will get used to them eventually. And it will be over someday soon, before I know it.

("It won't be like this forever" is almost always true.)

Then, last weekend, I took the first of three classes on how to fully correct my diastasis recti without surgery. I didn't realize it would require me to wear a tight brace around my torso 24 hours a day
for at least the next 6 weeks. And it may not even work for me.

And it's hot, sticky, I-want-to-wear-tank-tops SUMMER.

Z, I'm like you in at least one major way: I'm hypersensitive physically and emotionally. When I'm physically uncomfortable, I can't concentrate. I feel frustrated with the world and I don't want anyone near me. So I get how you are. And I'm pretty sure that one day, you will get how I am too.

Every morning, I stand in front of the mirror and refasten my ab brace and brush and replace my invisalign braces with the best attitude I can muster. Some mornings it's with a mirthful "Brace YOSELF!" Others is with a resigned "brace yourself."

We will learn to ride these waves together, you and me.

(Just, you know, brace yourself.)


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


On Father's Day

I think of him whenever I am asked to tell an original bedtime story. How did he do it so well? Did he ever resent it? I don't remember him ever sighing, shoulders drooping under the weight of one last request before the finish line of daily parenting. Did he? Did I just not notice it? Will my kids remember me this way?

I think of him whenever I flip through my iPhoto library. I usually hold my breath and skip past the February photos which contain grief bombs: close ups of his hand in mine. Close ups of his face, eyes closed, forehead wrinkled in ... confusion? Pain? Blurry photos of us saying goodbye. CG told me to take the pictures, that I'd want them. Sometimes, I'm not so sure.

I think of him when I get frustrated and clench my jaw, just like he used to do. Did his frustration feel like this, like my monster, the one that I hold in with such tiny, ill-fated muscles? I know we talked about it, how we both wrestle with a hair trigger for frustration. I wish I could remember more of what he said.

I think of him whenever I walk past a picture in my upstairs hallway. It was taken just a few months before he died, a studio portrait for my parents' church directory. I didn't like it at first, too staged for my tastes, I told myself, when that was only part of the story. Actually, I didn't like it because in it his face is puffy and the normally brilliant light behind his blue eyes looks dim. I didn't like to look at it and remember losing him so slowly and so completely.

I think of him whenever I glance at another, smaller picture of him carrying me as a toddler in a backpack. He is younger than I ever remember him. He is younger than I am now and looks strong and healthy and whole. The more I look at this picture the more his memory is painted with its mood. I see that smile, those dancing eyes when I think of him now. It may not be the image of him as I truly remember him but I want it to be part of the image of him I have left. These younger parts I'll never know. This man who I knew in a deep but deeply limited way. I want to fill in the cracks in my memory and paint a fuller, younger, happier picture of who he was. 

He will always be missed. But mostly, I am missing him on Father's Day.


As seen on Pinterest!

E was sick much of last week, which happened to be the last week of school. This was not a good thing, as I had planned to spend my mornings getting our house and calendar and lives ready for the summer. Instead, I spent it with her on my lap while she hacked into my face and wiped her nose on my shirt.

She was finally well enough for school on Thursday, the last day of school, and I spent that morning in a frantic rush to get the most important things done. Like surfing Pinterest for over an hour.



See, I was looking for inspiration for more Summer Sanity Savers. Where did people go for creative ideas before Pinterest? Their own heads, you say? PSHAW.

If you've spent any time on Pinterest lately, you've probably seen the "I'm Bored" jar. There are many, many options for how to make these but basically it's a jar filled with ideas for your kids to do when you catch them saying "I'm bored." Unfortunatley, I had major problems with most of the items that were listed in these Pinterested jars, mainly because they required waaaay too much in the way of motherly assistance. Many jars were super fancy with decoupaged labels and listed things like "Get ice cream cones!" and "Set up a lemonade stand!"

I'm sorry but for my kids to set up a lemonade stand, I would have to find the lemonade mix, help them mix it, help them move the table and chairs outside and down the street (we live on a cul de sac, so every lemonade stand has to be down the street.) Since my kids are usually bored at times when I'm busy doing something else or fresh out of the kind of energy required to assist in fun things like lemonade stands, I wanted to find activities that wouldn't require me to be involved in any way.

Lemonade stand? NO. Make a house for fairies out of legos? Yes.

"Oh! You're bored? How about you put away the pencil sharpener and the rubber ducky and the creepy dead-eyed puppy?"
I set up our "I'm bored" jar in about 20 minutes (If you don't count the hour I spent on Pinterest looking at ideas, which I don't) and it has been, for the most part, a positive thing. However I have learned a few important things:

1. Set a limit on the number of times they say "I'm bored" and reach for the jar. The first day, there was a lot of excitement about the jar and they raced through five each in 20 minutes. Now we say they can do two per day, one in the mornings and one in the afternoon.

2. Make sure you pick things you don't need to help them with. I cannot stress this enough. That is the whole point, yes? I have to read the item to E, since she can't read, but otherwise they should be on their own for the actual activity.

3. A mix of fun things and chore-type things seems to help cut down on the excitement and overuse. They might get something relatively easy and enjoyable like "build a fort out of couch cushions" or they might get "wipe all the baseboards in the house with a damp rag."

4. Non-messy activities are good (therefore, playing with play dough or painting of any kind are out.) As is stressing that cleaning up after themselves is part of the activity.

5. Put a limit on when they can reach for the jar, ie. 5 minutes before dinner or bedtime are NOT GOOD TIMES.

6. Print out your ideas on slips on paper, then fold them over. This will hopefully cut down on the selective browsing of activities by whiny children.


Here's my list of activities for our "I'm bored" jar:

Clean out mom’s car
Brush Sadie
Find/observe/sketch 3 animals in the yard
Write/draw a story about a dog with fleas
Write/draw a story about a princess with blue hair
Write/draw a story about a lonely fish
Write/draw a story about a walk in the woods
Do a yoga DVD
Wipe all the baseboards with a damp rag
Write a letter to anyone you want
Sharpen all the colored pencils
Do a jigsaw puzzle
Make an obstacle course in the basement
Take pictures with Mom’s little camera
Build a fort out of couch cushions
Play a computer game
Do 3 workbook pages
Dance party!
Water all the potted plants
Take a play bath
Sweep the kitchen floor
Sweep the patio
Make your bed
Call Nana
Call Gramma
Throw the ball for Sadie (in basement or outside)
Organize the food in the play kitchen
Make a happy surprise for a neighbor
Find 10 different leaves outside
Make a fairy house out of legos

What do you all do when your kids say "I'm bored"? If you have an "I'm bored" jar, what goes in it?


This is the question of my life, right now

Monday 5:08 pm.
making dinner

"STOOOOOP! NO!! MO-OM! She's taking my ball!"

"Z, your sister was using that ball. Please give it back."

"NO! I want a turn! She always gets what she wants! I never do!"

"I'm sorry to hear you feel that way at the moment but you still need to give your sister back her ball and if you want a turn, just ask her."


"Thanks Z, now please turn off the TV and come to dinner."

"NO! Why doesn't Eliza ever have to turn off the TV? I ALWAYS do. She NEVER does.  It's NOT FAIR. I have to do EVERYTHING. THIS IS THE WORST DAY EVER!"

 Really? The worst day ever? Of all the horrible things that can befall humanity, me making you give back something you took from your sister and turn off our plasma TV is THE WORST? 

I don't even know where to start with that.


Monday 7:38 pm

"I want to drink my mouthrinse from the bottle!"

"No Z, that could spread germs. That's why we always use a cup."

"But I don't like using a cup! I want to drink it like this and I'm going to and you can't make me and..."


I grab her forearm, stopping the bottle on its trajectory to her lips. I grab fast and hard. T
oo fast, too hard. She freezes, eyes wide for just a moment before she begins to cry. I let go, say I'm sorry and hand her a cup. 

I know these fits aren't really about the ball or the tv or the mouthrinse bottle, they're about the transition to summer vacation. I know these times of flux are difficult for my sensitive, rigid girl. I know I need to remain calm and control my emotions during these days when she is feeling deeply rattled and out of control. I KNOW this and yet my intellect and empathy only takes me so far. 

Some days, it's not nearly far enough.


Tuesday 6:38 am.
yoga class

"Downward dog is a lot like child's pose. How can you make it as easy as child's pose? How can you stay as calm and relaxed in the challenging moments, in downward dog, as you do in child's pose? Through all our challenging moments, how can we find peace inside? This is the question of yoga. This is the question of life."

This is the question of my life, right now.



Book Report 2013 - First Half

Yes, I realize that it's not quite the half way point in the year yet but I'm pretty sure that if I wait until the kids are out of school, I will never write this post. So. Here's how it goes: as always I write only what I remember about a book, so if there are any inaccuracies, I apologize but I'm grasping at what few straws are left in my brain.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom - Just the synopsis of this novel packs an emotional punch. Lavinia, an orphaned white girl comes to live on a Virginia plantation as an indentured servant working in the kitchen house alongside the plantation's slaves who include Belle, the plantation master's illegitimate biracial child. Belle and Lavinia alternate telling this gripping, tear-jerker of a story, and their voices ring true, or as true as I can imagine sitting in my kitchen in 2013. Even now, six months later, memory-challenged me can remember the names and major plot points of this book. I cared about these people and cried with them. Highly recommended.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman - One day, a childless couple living in a remote lighthouse find a boat drifting to shore containing a dead man and a live baby. The wife, grieving for all the babies she has lost, considers this beautiful healthy baby a miracle, an answered prayer. What would you do? I struggled with the ending of this novel, but I think that only speaks to the power of its storytelling, I believed in the story and there was no perfectly happy ending possible that would ring true. Highly recommended, though it might be tough for those who've struggled with the loss of a pregnancy/child.

Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis - In this novel, we follow the sad life of Hattie, the matriarch of a large African American family, as she loses her children in many different ways. The writing flowed nicely and I loved having different narrators for each chapter.  Hattie is tough and imperfect and beaten down, in the end the sadness got a little too heavy for me, I think because I was reading this around the time of my dad's decline. Recommended if you don't mind the sadness.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green - Oh! Let's weep so more! Yeah, I didn't do so good a job this year picking uplifting books after sad books. But this book just goes to show you that sad can be done well! And leave me feeling sort of cleansed and almost even joyful afterwards! I adored this YA love story about two cancer-stricken teens who meet at a support group. The dialogue made me remember what being a teenager felt like and, dude, I'm old AND have a bad memory. And, yes, I wept like a baby after turning the last page. Highly recommended for YA lovers or anyone with a heart.

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy - This was a book group book that I enjoyed thoroughly once I got into it. Four different characters, with four completely different voices, narrate the (eventually) intertwining stories of slavery, immigration and - of course! - lurvvve. It took me awhile to get into this book - the narration styles were so different, the dialect was challenging and the stories take a while to converge - but once I did, I LOVED it. Highly recommended for you historical fiction types.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - Let's just call this the year of weeping, shall we? I cried like a little baby whose pacifier's been taken away when this book ended. Just sobbed. A young woman is hired as an aide to a young, prickly quadriplegic. She is different, quirky, fun and they fall in love. I just didn't want this to end. Highly recommend for those who love love stories and are financially invested in Kleenex stock.

Set Loose, No Other Love and Tempt Me by Isabel Morin - Okay! Here's a couple of palette cleansers! Phew! My friend wrote these erotic novels and BOY HOWDY did I enjoy reading them, and they didn't make me cry once! "Set Loose" and "Tempt Me" are both set in present day while "No Other Love" is a historical romance. All are fun romps. My favorite? "Set Loose," about a ballet dancer whose car breaks down in Las Vegas. To pay for the needed car repairs, she tries her (inexperienced) hand at stripping and winds up falling for a strip club bouncer.  Recommended for the erotica lover.

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple - This was a fun, laugh riot of a book and I've heard that if you're from the Pacific Northwest, it's even funnier. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about Benadette, an acclaimed architect-turned stay-at-home mom and all the people in her orbit. I loved how the book was told in many different formats- emails, forms, letters, etc..  Recommended for those who could use a laugh or three.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz - I chose this because Mr. Diaz is a big literary deal and I like to read big literary deals from time to time to see what all the fuss is about. The writing style of these short stories about a complex dude with lady troubles was appealing, the words felt fresh and compelling, but I didn't love the book because the emotional world it painted felt so foreign, so....masculine.  Truthfully, the stories felt really aggressively male and I struggled to finish the book. I don't think I like what that says about me.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown - I was ready for a pick-me-up after that last book, so I turned to this self-help, up-with-people book. I really, really wanted to love this book but it struck me as .... odd. Brown, a "vulnerability researcher" spends quite a bit of time talking about her credentials and academic research in what feels like an attempt at intellectual legitimacy and prestige. But then she uses words like "Wholehearted," which is always capitalized, and talks extensively about her own issues with shame and this felt discordant.  I fully applaud her desire to release people from the binds of shame and to change the cultural standing of vulnerability but yeah, I just keep feeling put off. I felt like I had to read it while squinting past the annoying parts so that I could focus on the cheer leading it did for us sensitive-types. Recommended only if you love self-help.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich- My mom gave me this novel and told me I HAD to read it, and she's not exactly the pushy type. But I found the going SO SLOW at first. A woman's rape in the vicinity of a Native American round house provides the catalyst that sends the plot into motion. Our narrator, her teenage son, tries to help solve the mystery of his mother's rape. His character felt so immediate and SO REAL, and the descriptive writing was beautiful but I kept being put to sleep by this book. The plot makes it seems like it should be a who-done-it page-turner but I NEVER stayed up too late to read it and I had to treat it like an assignment for the first half of the book. I know lots of people who loved it and I did wind up enjoying it a great deal as it came to a deftly-handled close but I can't say I was ever riveted.

Come Back to Me by Melissa Foster - The characters in this novel were thinly drawn but the action was compelling enough to get me engaged in the beginning:  a newly pregnant wife finds out her military husband has gone missing and is presumed dead in the Middle East. We follow both her story, and her husband's as he is found and nursed by two refugee women. I was totally WITH this book until the second half where it took a turn I couldn't stand and then I was just pissed. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book.

Schroder by Amity Gage - All my book recommendations come from Twitter, my book group or, like this one, Catherine Newman. I picked it because I was interested in the true story that inspired it: that of "Clark Rockefeller", a conman who created a fictitious identity in an attempt at living like American royalty. I really enjoyed this story, partially because of and despite the limitations of our singular narrator: the conman himself. Recommended.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - Oh this book. I loved this book. It felt like a magical little snowflake and I was scared to hold it too tightly because it might melt away.  A childless couple (WHAT IS WITH THE CHILDLESS COUPLES IN ALL MY BOOKS?) creates a child out of snow one wintry night, topping it with a knitted scarf and hat. The next day the snow child has disappeared and the knitted items are spotted on a spritely figure who dashes through the woods. Have they conjured an actual child out of nothing but snow and heartbreaking desire, just like an old story the woman remembers from a childhood fairytale? A fantastic premise handled with loving care. Highly recommended.

Stranger Here: How Weight Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed With My Head by Jen Larsen - Linda raved this on twitter and I liked it. Ms. Larsen is bracingly honest about her failings (she doesn't follow pretty much any of her doctor's recommendations before or after weight loss surgery) and she's damn funny at the same time. I kind of loved the ending, too, now that I think about it, so, yeah, sure, recommended.

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen - This book has so much potential! But I ultimately found it frustrating and fantasized about PAYING for a tougher editor for this author. The book follows both her personal family dysfunction (We are told repeatedly that they never spoke! About feelings! Or what they did at the plant! Or ANYTHING! GOT. IT.) and the story of her next door neighbor, Rocky Flats, a plutonium bomb trigger factory. There is an interesting story hidden there but it was repetitive in more than a few places and the whole thing could have been much tighter, like 150 pages chopped off tighter. Oh well.


Okay, your turn! What have you been reading lately and what should I read next?


Update - S E X and Summer is coming!

Update on S E X-

At dinner with friends last week, Z asked how exactly a woman's egg is fertilized by a man's seed and she kept at it. "I just don't get it!" she said as we grownups all stared bug-eyed at each other before busting out laughing. I think I eventually mumbled something lame about talking about it later.

It seems she is ready to hear about how babies are made. Furthermore, it seems I am not quite up to the task as much as I hoped.

So last weekend, when her sister was otherwise occupied, I pulled out our previously hidden copy of It's Not The Stork! and read it to her, cover to cover. When we got to the extremely brief description of s e x, she exclaimed "Did YOU ever do that?" and I replied with a simple "yes."

When I finished reading, I asked her if she had any questions and I told her the book would be on her shelf for her to look at whenever she wants. She had no questions and hasn't mentioned it since. The information in the book is very basic (it's actually meant for kids ages 4 and up) but she is a pretty sheltered, emotionally immature 7 year old so I thought we'd start with this one before moving on to the next book.

I don't know if she really grasped any information but I guess that doesn't matter so much. What matters is that we've started the dialogue and she has resources she knows she can turn to if she has further questions.



Update on Summer is coming!-

Friends, I am panicking. We have just a small sampling of summer camps scheduled and a whole lot of open ended summer days.

I feel like I need a game plan.

Here's what I've got so far:

1. Every night after dinner, the kids and I will sit down and write out a plan for the following day. That way we aren't just fumbling around in the morning in our pjs until someone gets inspired/stir crazy. We can, of course, have mornings where we stay in our pjs all morning but I'd like it to be a purposeful choice.

2. Z will do her school summer reading challenge and we will schedule in reading time every week day.

3. Z will also write something every day, whether it's the grocery list, a letter, a story, a journal entry, anything.

4. Both girls are going to learn how to do some more chores around the house this summer. They've chosen to learn how to do their laundry from start to finish and how to load and unload the dishwasher.  (I think I will need to reward us ALL with treats after working on these.)

5. We'll have an adventure every week, of my choosing.

6. I'm going to ask the girls to pick a personal goal for the summer and then make a plan to reach that goal.

That's all I got so far.



Summer is coming (dunh dunh DUNH)

We've been watching "Game of Thrones," but I have to admit that I'm totally lost and need an annotated flow chart of some kind to made sense of all the plotlines. I keep thinking I've got it all figured out and then all of a sudden, they flash to yet another storyline that I've forgotten about and I am lost again. I may be close to giving up on it entirely, but I do love me some John Snow and there's something enticing about the often uttered phrase "Winter is coming."  It's vague and forboding and with summer break approaching, I completely understand what it means.

It means: get ready because your world is about to be rocked and, as surely as the earth goes around the sun, you can do nothing to stop it.

Every summer is a rough transition for all of us here at Casa de Clueless But Hopeful. Turns out we are a mentally inflexible bunch of panty twisters who hate change.

(Come party! But leave by bedtime and don't move our stuff!)

Each year, I struggle to find the right balance of summer camp and free time. I vacillate between desparately wanting my kids to have a predictable schedule so that I get things done in some fashion that vaguely resembles the school year schedule and wanting them to have an idealized summer of opened ended play in the backyard and endless time to read and craft and play pretend. Both are important and valid. I think it's healthy to have some predictability and structure for our general sanity but I feel this strong desire to let them be free! And just play!

The reality: when they are free to just play, they destroy the house, bicker endlessly and fray what's left of my last nerve.

So. I need some Summer Sanity Savers pronto because Summer is coming. *dunh dunh DUNH!*

What are your Summer Sanity Savers?


To My Daughters, On Mother's Day

Dear Z and E,

Before I became your mother, I was worried about so many things.

I was worried that I might not fall in love with you. I should have been worried that I would fall in love with you so completely that I would never sleep, watch the news, think about my life, or walk through the world the same way ever again.

I was worried that you would one day say you hate me and I would feel so mortally wounded by your words that I would crumble inward. I didn't know that I would crumble, not from my own wounds, but from the wounds in you that your words reveal.

I was worried that as a lifelong conflict-avoider, I would never be able to set the boundaries necessary for a healthy parent/child relationship. I didn't know that setting boundaries would be the easy part, keeping them and explaining them and owning them would be the hard part.

I was worried that having daughters would reveal my ineptitude with femininity and womanhood. I didn't know that having daughters would give me an expansive opportunity to reexamine and explore what it means to be female.

I was worried I wouldn't understand your challenges or know everything I needed to know to meet them. Instead, I've struggled to fight my assumption that I know everything about you, to not try to own your challenges for you, to let them be yours and yours alone, and to walk beside you as we figure them out together.

I was worried, somewhere deep down, that I wouldn't be a good mother, that motherhood would reveal my messy, imperfect self, that I would screw you up entirely.

I'm beginning to realize that owning those messy, imperfect parts of me are part of being a good mother.

One day, I hope you become mothers, not just because I can clearly see the benefits of grandparenthood, but also because I see the privelage of being your mother as a highlight of my life.

And if your life path doesn't include motherhood, I hope I am strong enough to let that be your choice, and to keep my damn mouth shut.


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Dress Rehearsal/Opening Night/Aftermath

Tuesday April 30

Dress Rehearsal.

I am walking with my daughter, faking comfort and confidence as I enter the high school (it seems this is the only way I know how to enter a high school, no matter what my age.)  My oldest girl's steps still have the jazzy cadence of a young child and as we draw nearer to the clusters of high schoolers by the front door, she bounces closer to me, takes my hand, and loudly calls me Mommy.

After we enter the auditorium, she drops my hand and rushes into the open arms of a tall Sound of Music cast member whose name I don't know, who nonetheless looks after her like a sister.

And just like that, she is gone.

I find a seat in the darkened theater and watch. She is by the far the youngest on the stage, a little bobbed head two feet below a sea of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift lookalikes. I look on her with unending love but judgements aggressively push their way into my consciousness. The light is bright on her up on that stage and I see where her bangs are not quite straight and I notice that she has a smudge of yogurt on her cheek and I can tell every time her mind wanders somewhere else.

Hours pass. Her eyes now have that exhausted glazed look I have come to know all too well these past seven years. A pit in my stomach starts its usual fearful gnawing. She yawns. It's nearing 9 pm, an hour past her bedtime. I tense and fight the urge to stride up to the stage, grab her around the waist and take her home.

On the way home in the car she says sleepily, "Mom? Isn't this so, SO fun?"


Thursday May 2

Opening night.

I crouch beside her backstage, reluctantly smearing makeup on her perfect poreless face. She just turned 7 and is about to perform for a lot of people and she's bouncing-off-the-walls excited. I tell her to sit still, to save her energy. I swipe a licked finger across her cheek. I ask her if she needs to go potty.

She brushes me away as, of course, she must.

Her makeup applied, her costume on, it quickly becomes clear that I am in the way. As I take my place in the audience, I feel as if I'm tumbling down a hill away from her. She is on her own on that stage for the next few hours. I can do nothing to help her except sit and watch.

And tense at every cue I fear she'll miss. 

And berate myself for letting her do this in the first place. 

And grimace at every yawn/error/wedgie pick.

And clap.



She is 7 now and sometimes when I say that to her cursing cast members -"Language please! She's only 7!" - she sounds so young and sometimes when I say that to her - "You're 7 now! SEVEN." - she sounds so impossibly old.

She goes to the cast party with a bunch of posturing high schoolers who want only to talk about sex and impress each other.  After the party, she curls up with her stuffed animals and asks for a bedtime story about a silly dragon named Snapdragon. She is so big and so little.

We worry about the post performance let down for her, the end of all that attention. She is a little snarky and tired these days but the big surprise is we have our own emotional aftermath to deal with, too. We let her go a little more during this process and it hurts, like the opposite of growing pains. Or, I guess, growing pains for parents.

I choose a card for her, one for her father and me to write a little something in to congratulate her on her hard work. I write about how proud I am of her, how impressed I am with her commitment and hard work. My mind rushes through all the bumps along the way, the late nights, the times I had to remind her to practice her lines, the missed cues and on-stage yawns during the performances. I push  down those unhelpful thoughts.

And I celebrate her in her bigness, her smallness, her onstage and her backstage and her signing autographs for a crowd of girls and her curled up in her bed with her stuffed animals while I rub her back just like I did when she was a baby.

I'm proud of it all.


Blog Designed by: NW Designs