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Skipping through Fields of Daisies

I don’t often use this space to twitter about boundless joys. For just over eight years, I’ve blogged to find community, and, generally, my need for connection stems from frustrations, sadness, or observations borne of my disdain for what humanity, as a collective scourge, is doing unto itself.

But I’ll be damned if this isn’t the finest weekend I’ve had in years. Decades. This might be the finest weekend ever.


Set the stage? Sure. I’m in up to my eyes at a great job, slogging through a friendly divorce, and raising two amazing human beings who drive me freaking crazy and make my heart ache all at the same time.

There. All caught up.

Now…this weekend. I planned this a few months back, as summer stretched before me in a long string of work, childcare machinations, family trips, and school-free lack of ritual. I decided that a couple of family trips were not serving my Q3 goal of restoring some of what wall-to-wall kids and work having been doing to my brain and soul.

Yes, I actually have a formal, quarterly goal to chill the eff out. I’m too motivated by formal goals to do anything not on the list, so I put myself on the list.

It’s like I’m growing as a person. Kind of.


I asked my BFF if she wanted to spend Labor Day weekend holed up in local spot by the ocean and hiking trails. Our relationship is anchored in 25 years of enjoying each others’ company but also in being fully willing to wander off by ourselves. We don’t ask each other permission, we don’t mince words, we don’t need to be together a lot, and we don’t get too easily annoyed by each other. We get SUPER annoyed by other people, though. We’re gonna be the best single old ladies, ever.

Like these ladies.

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So we spent late Friday to late Monday in a tiny corner of the world right under the Golden Gate Bridge. I picked her up after a meeting at the mediator’s office, where I wept through a discussion of how important revokable trusts are in a divorce, because from here on, the state will assume that my almost-not-husband and I want each other to burn in a fiery hell of destitution and legal disempowerment even regarding our own children. My weekend companion and I took several calls for work, powering through an afternoon of work in half the time, setting up our teams for wild successes next week. Friday ended about 3pm, and my dear friend and I drove across the incomparable Golden Gate Bridge to check into the hotel.


We supped, we read, we ran, we slept. That was the whole weekend. On our own terms, in our own time, at our own pace, for days and days, on repeat. Eat, read, run, eat, read, sleep. In perfect weather. With gorgeous views. In silence, most of the time, but also talking about things small and tall.

There was only one problem: I’m not used to luxuriating in wall-to-wall “there is no wrong choice.” I’m used to cramming little bits of sanity and health into giant gobs of should and must and have to and hurry up.

So I woke panicked because I missed my kids and was sure something was wrong. (There is nothing wrong. They’re healthy and happy and three days without me is a vacation for them, too.)

And  I woke panicked because I’d forgotten two things at work. (Whatever. I’ll add them to the long list and get to them as priorities dictate. The work is never done. Ever.)

And I woke panicked because the trip is coming to a close and I still have book and work and handwritten letters to finish. (Yep. That’s as small as it sounds. Cost me three hours of sleep, though. Midnight panic, 3am panic, 5am panic. Super useful way to spend the last night in a quiet, solitary space.)


What a glorious gift, to have nothing to worry about except where and when to eat, run, sleep, and read. It doesn’t get much better.

Most people don’t get this. They can’t afford to take vacations. They can’t leave their children with someone else. They don’t have the time off work, especially with multiple jobs. I’m incredibly lucky that working my brains out and being in the middle of a divorce means I can take vacation.

And I’m immeasurably lucky that I have a friend who makes the whole process exponentially better.

May you all have something like this, and so much more.

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Reset

No matter how busy the days have been over the past few weeks (I’m going to pass on the hyperbole and cliches, but it’s been pretty freaking busy), I’m able to catch my breath. To smile. To look around and really see. 

The pace of changes in our family have accelerated, but the rhythm has slowed. Because I’m building intention into our rituals, our conversations, and our home. 

I’ve boxed up all the wedding china. And I’ve replaced it with a classic family tradition: a mess or a miracle, depending on your perspective. 

A few weeks after my grandma died, my mom invited me to look around and claim my memories. I went right to the kitchen. 

If nobody has claimed them, I want two of these. 

  
She asked if I was kidding. They’re chipped and cracked, she noted. Sure. But they’re the plates we used every week for Sunday dinner after my mom moved us back to California in 1979. Every week. Grandma and Grandpa and mom and kids and aunts and uncles and cousins. 

I wasn’t kidding. I wanted two. 

She gave me four. 

The day I got them home I dig through the boxes in the garage. I didn’t know what they looked like, but knew they were there…in a dusty white file box labeled “grandma china.” Paternal grandma. Died in the early 90s. China came to me years later. And I never used it. 

I took four and put them with maternal grandma’s plates. 

   
  
Paternal grandma was one delightful half of my wholly delightful sciencey grandparents,  whom I visited several times a year in Tucson. Scrabble and tennis and gin rummy and butter rum LifeSavers. And though I miss both her and grandpa every day, I have no memory of the plates. But who cares…they’re a piece of the people I adored. They remind me of lemon meringue pie and monsoon rains and Kodak carousels of global travels and a blue checked tablecloth.

My mom figured out what I was doing, and saved me a few of these. 

 
Maternal grandma’s. I stopped caring about the stories and just basked in nostalgia and the glory of building from good memories. Starting over with just me and my boys and the legacy of love and kindness that is their birthright.  

My kitchen is dripping with metaphor. Seriously, it’s like a bad freshman essay in there. And I love every cornball connotation. 

A few days ago mom put four plates in my car. It was a frantic day of fraught decisions and parenting fails and traffic and yuck. I thanked her and heartlessly forgot them. 

And today after work I remembered mustard for my boys’ favorite veggie burger recipe (lentils, rice, cashews, and a big pinch of organic shut-up-if-you-hate-veggie-burgers). And pulling the groceries out of the car I remembered mom’s plates. 

I didn’t really look. I washed them. And I served burgers on them. 

And after the kids went to bed I payed attention. 

  

   

My mom got these as wedding presents. Her marriage ended when I was five. She didn’t want the plates. 

My grandma did. 

So now I serve my family homemade food on plates my grandma valued  even as my mom wanted to shed the memories they represented. 

Grandma gave them a second chance, and new memories. 

And now I’m doing the same. 

Starting my way, with my family, and making my choices based on love, nostalgia, and a willingness to shed formal for cobbled together and beautiful. 

   

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Type this post

I feel more than slightly ridiculous dictating this blog post on a walk between two client meetings. But I feel kind of awesome that I can do it. It’s not every day I have ten minutes for a post. It’s not every day I get a glorious walk in perfect weather from one part of San Francisco to another.

It’s not every month that I have so many clients that I schedule back-to-back meetings and walk briskly between them with purpose and determination. I’m incredibly lucky. And because I recognize how lucky I am, ridiculous seems okay right now, and dictate I shall.

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I feel like an entitled jackass for having groceries delivered tonight. It’s my third time this year having groceries delivered, and I will admit with almost no shame that I love it. I don’t have anyone but me clean the house, until this month I didn’t have regular childcare, we don’t go out to eat very often, and we almost never have food delivered. Certainly I never used to pay to have groceries brought to my door. But the little guy and I skipped our weekly grocery date so that we could see his big brother in the school production of the Midas Touch. As much as I would like to resist the multitasking of dictating a blog post, and of having groceries delivered, it’s pretty awesome and I can use my time like this. To see my amazing son in a play instead of going to the grocery store. To get some work done and some exercise and a blog post all the same time.

I like this new purposeful walk and the spare $5 to have groceries delivered. I like it very much.

I have found myself in the thrilling, unnerving, awkward position of a very exciting, almost entirely joyful, complete reorganization of my life. I have no idea how I feel about it, for my tendency is to predict during good time what might go wrong and when, but I’m doing my best to be present and notice and make the best choices I can.

In the course of about two months, I have gone from a stay at home parent who freelanced about 20 hours a week, to a part-time parent and 50-hour-a-week contractor. For years, I had pushed work to the back burner, cramming my consultancy apologetically into the few hours when my kids were asleep and at school (afternoon preschool and elementary school meant daytime work hours were two hours a day, three days a week; and I usually preferred a run and a shower to work, so I had a dysfunctional relationship with my computer late nights and early mornings). And then suddenly, just as preschool is ending and I’ll have the kids together in one school, with a more balanced daytime rhythm, more brain space, and more sleep, I am getting more work than I can handle. I’m turning down clients, which kills me but is necessary. I’m now hiring someone to pick up my boys from their schools two days a week.

And that feels even better than delivering groceries and dictating blog posts.

Because having a babysitter do the four hours of driving that it takes to collect my precious monkeys twice a week, I’m balancing my priorities better. I love my kids and I want to be with them. But I am really good at my chosen profession, and I genuinely appreciate both the paycheck and the accolades that come from doing a good job. I like having colleagues who call me repeatedly when they have challenging work for me, I like free unhealthy snacks at my tech and agency clients’ offices, and I really like leaving a list of what dinner should be, and having someone else chop and spice and cook and serve. And clean up. Good heavens, the one time my nine-hours-a-week sitter did the dishes, I cried.

Cried. Because someone washed a few dishes for me. So that I could get an extra 10 minutes of sleep.

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I will likely kiss the grocery delivery person on the face when they show up at 7pm with all the stuff I didn’t have time for but that my family needs to be healthy.

And I will likely hit “post” on this ridiculous babbling, because it’s what I have to offer right now. Change is in the air…things are different. Life looks different and feels different, and I’m more than a little excited.

That’s all. Had to tell you that before I go into this next meeting.

The Missing Post

This is not today’s post. This is yesterday’s post.

Why the semantics/replacement/transmogrification?

I planned to post last night. Right after the kids went to bed. Butter fell asleep quickly, with me curled up next to him reading the last chapter of The Prisoner Of Azkaban by the laser-beam of our impossibly bright book light. Peanut listened from his upper bunk and when I put the book away, wiping away tears borne of Harry’s joy, Peanut asked if he could sleep in my bed.

“Of course.”

He rarely does, unless he’s really scared. He prefers solitude, and I don’t blame him. But finishing a book is monumental to him, and he wanted company.

“Are you working tonight, or going to bed soon?”

I thought of NaBloPoWriMo’s mandate to post daily. I thought of dirty dishes. I thought of a mess in the living room and a desire to meander through various retailers’ online deals.

“I’m not working. Just let me brush my teeth.”

So I went to bed at 8:30 to be present for a child who wanted me with him.

And I will post later. For today.

But for now I’m well rested and happy and have taken one of those rare opportunities to replace “I can’t; I have work to do” with “Anything you need, my love. Anything you need.”

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Flawless is a strong word

I don’t want to dissect this statement too carefully, because life is never as hyperbolic as I make it sound, but this might have been the best weekend ever.

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Friday I met a dear friend for coffee. We unburdened and relaxed a bit. Then I packed my bags and went to another treasured friend’s house. She had planned a ladies’ weekend for us in honor of our birthdays. When I came back my extended family threw me a grand party.

Those bare details would be enough for me. From coffee with a friend through dinner with beloved family, I would have gloated that this weekend was wonderful. But the details were stunning.

The weekend included:
sleeping late two days in a row (something I haven’t done in 9 years)
a scenic run in good company
several walks along the beach
being caught off guard by a wave
sunshine
copious food that I didn’t have to prepare
my first massage in almost six years
genuine and complete quiet
75 pages a book I’ve been dying to start for several years
several trips into a sauna, which resonates physically for me with nostalgia and safety
a hilarious moment when I came out of my hotel bathroom to find a small bird eating my dessert
a pink-fluffy-cloud sunrise in a pale blue sky over the ocean
two hours of quiet driving with a great audiobook
a happy house that my children and their dad had cleaned
the smells of a dinner my sons made for our party
fourteen people I love celebrating our mutual adoration with good food and wine
a gorgeous birthday cake
thoughtful homemade gifts
and a night where my children played kindly with cousins without incident.

There wasn’t any of it that could have been better. None.

I can’t remember saying that about a full two day stretch before.

Blessed, charmed, lucky, and grateful don’t even begin to articulate my current existence.

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Group storytelling

As our family dissolves its current form and grows again to a new structure, we’re developing dozens of lovely traditions.

And my absolute favorite is the family story.

We talk each day about our favorite parts of the day, and our biggest challenges; we talk about gratitude and feelings.

And now, when the kids seem bored, when we share time together, when we travel in the car, and especially when dim lighting and clean teeth spell the end of the day, we invent a story. Together. Sometimes as three people, and sometimes as four. Each person tells one sentence of a new story. Each subsequent person builds upon it. Until it’s done. And then we do it again.

Tonight:

There once was a tree with several leaves.
And nearby there was a tree with lots of leaves.
And those two trees began growing toward each other.
One day they touched together.
And they began dripping honey.
And they grew together some more.
And they spilled all the honey on the ground.
This made them fight.
A bear stopped by to say, “Don’t worry, there’s enough honey for everyone.”
So every animal in the forest came and took what they needed.
And the trees were happy.
And the animals were happy.
And full of honey.
The End.

 

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Journey to the Center of the Earth

Peanut has been fascinated by caves for a long time. His only visit to a cave was in utero, when Spouse and I went to Karchner Caverns in Arizona. I was seven months pregnant and had several almost-panic-attacks while underground. Humidity, claustrophobia, and pregnancy-induced inability to breathe made the cave terrifying. But gorgeous. And somehow that must have stuck with him.

Mmmmm. Cave bacon.

We’ve watched the cave episode of Planet Earth maybe five times in a year. He can’t stop talking about a cave movie they watched at school last year.

He’s been asking to go to a cave for months. And I mostly assumed that outside Mammoth Caves and Carlsbad, there aren’t many around us.

Foolish Muggle.

When I finally looked on the googles, I found caves that are literally on the way to our big Tahoe camping trip every year.

So we crammed the kids in the car and tolerated their incessant bickering to see this (all photos below are mine):

 

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Helictites make me think of Unicorns. And this cave had millions of them.

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See? Unicorn horns.

I had forgotten how miraculous it feels to crawl through a small hole in the heat-cracked earth and arrive in a cool, wide, dark tomb carved over tens of thousands of years by slightly acidic water.

We have a friend who caves, but Peanut has only met her once and thus can’t be duly impressed by her hobby/avocation. I want to send her the following photos, though, because we can lure her out to California.

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How about a pool 150 feet down from the cave entrance?

It’s intensely beautiful to watch kids stare way up and then waaaaaay down to learn the difference between stalactites and stalagtites.

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I see you hiding in the draperies, bacon. Sparkly calcite cannot disguise your mock deliciousness.

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Forgot to ask if this white residue on this flowstone was more of the moon milk we saw on the walls. Mmmm. Bacterial moon milk.

 

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I love this dinosaur-mouth configuration so much.

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Theatrical lighting wholeheartedly approved. Wowzers.

The best part wasn’t even the cave, which is saying a lot. The best part was the rock shop on the way out.

A bit of background: I love rock shops more than any single thing in my life, kids notwithstanding. Maybe. Depends on the day. I have dozens, really and truly dozens, of childhood memories of rock shops. I can tell you exactly which rock I bought or found and at which rockshop of patch of earth for every rock ever obtained from the time I was 7. Seriously. I distinctly remember why each of those rocks called to me. Because they call loudly.

And I cannot be dragged from a rock shop until I’m done. Forget can’t…I will not. Not that I’d know. Nobody has ever tried. I have lovely memories of my parents waiting for me at rock shops. Of being left alone to wander, gently touch, careful consider while they were…ah, hell, I don’t know where they were. I can’t imagine they were looking, too. Bored at the door? Consuming secret cookie stashes while I wasn’t looking? I never considered them, selfish rockhound that I am. I’m guessing they were patient at first. And I’m guessing that they got bored, or that my brother got bored, or that I somehow tried everyone’s patience. But know what? I don’t remember caring one whit whether everyone was exasperated with the rock shop or not. I was prepared to spend all day filling my one-ounce cup with perfect rock chip specimens, even if it killed my whole family.

So when my boys entered the rock shop after an hour below ground in a majestic cave, I rather expected them to shrug and ask for candy. My poor sugar-denied kids always ask for candy. And I always say no.

Anticipating their request and their disinterest in the rock shop, I made a beeline to the rock candy I saw as soon as we entered, and waited for them to follow. I was going to make this cave, this rock shop, memorable for my kids, who likely cared more for sugar than for rocks.

But the little guy ignored me and stood, eyes wide, in front of the pick-your-own-rocks barrel. Fill a bag with any rocks you choose? Any at all? My idea of heaven and his idea of…a whole afternoon of joy. He’s four, y’all. And he spent 20 minutes choosing the best rocks. Never once did he see me at the candy display. He was so engrossed in rock selection that he didn’t look up even when his dad offered tiger’s eye rocks for the bag. “Dad,” he said without looking at either the man or the stone, “this is my choice. Stop it.”

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Not bad for a pink-obsessed 4yo…these were his actual selections and he’s still quite proud of them.

No DNA test needed.

The eldest wandered aimlessly. It was as though he couldn’t find the right rock. I let him be, scouring the shelves for rocks that were one part neglected, one part magic, one part architectural marvel, and one part undervalued.

Butter finished his rock bag. He appreciated the rock candy. We went outside with his dad to slurp and ponder his treasure.

And still Peanut wandered. I chose my rock carefully. I triple checked to be sure I wasn’t missing anything on the shelves.

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And still he wandered.

I stayed back and watched for a while. I showed him my finds and he seemed duly unimpressed. I offered suggestions for areas in which to look for something that might speak to him.

And he seemed stymied. No break-your-own-geodes because his aunt and uncle gave him the best geodes ever two years ago, and he doesn’t want more. No dogtooth calcite, for reasons only a psychologist will be able to discern. No broken shark teeth because he found real, intact, beautiful fossilized shark teeth with his dad at the beach. No arrowheads because, “Mom, who would want that? They’re replicas!”

And then he found the select-a-pendant-and-cord display.

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He chose his treasure quickly. Clearly not a natural specimen, and he doesn’t care. Clearly on a weak bale, and he doesn’t care. Clearly exactly and precisely the man-shaped rock he needs right this very minute oh my gawd I can’t wait. He appreciated his rock candy, but not as much as his necklace.

He made it to the car before he realized his necklace had already fallen off.

Parking lot of gravel. Grey rock on grey cord.

A lot of looking.

Butter found it for him, how I’ll never know. In the middle of the parking lot.

So we have our cave experience. And our rocks. We don’t have any more rock candy. But it was as delicious as any Doozer sugar sculpture*.

* I read that Doozers’ buildings are allegedly radish dust, but those are clearly made of sugar. My entire childhood will be a lie if Doozer buildings aren’t basically rock candy.

So we’ve visited our first cave. And our first rock shop. And our first rock tragedy was narrowly averted by a hero within our own family.

All, my friends, ALL was right with the world in that moment.**

**Except that almost nothing is right with the larger world right now, and that rock candy might not be a Doozer creation. But I’m trying to not have a sad on my cave and rock post. Because perfection.

 

 

I’m in love

Summer crashes in waves around us, cool mornings rising into bone-baking heat, quiet nights shaking into riotous days, weeks of unstructured play and family camping shifting into time-demarked camps and faux school.

And I am in love with the season.

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The amazing benefit to having Seasonal Affective Disorder is that summers are downright manic. So while I spend winters in front of a lightbox, forcing exercise, and wearing bright colors to make it through, from May to August I stockpile joy. I’m cramming all the sunshine I can into my cells. So I don’t forget what good feels like.

I watch my children slurp and mangle the melon my grandmother taught us was the single best treat ever grown. Canary yellow rind, orange and green flesh, and fragrant, nectar-flavored flesh not too firm and not too soft. She insisted on calling it Juan Canary long after marketers decided it would sell better with just the word Canary. And from the May-or-June moment I spy it in stores until the moment my children toss the rind gleefully into the compost bucket and grab more, running past me and out the backdoor in our pretend game of “don’t you dare eat another slice of melon, young man, that melon is the legacy of my grandmother and you may not have anymore, dagnabbit,” I am in love with the taste of nostalgia and happiness.

I wake each morning in the cool, already-loud house, stretching my gloriously midlife body and aching back into the eleven-year-old bed and listen to my children navigate what will be the most important relationship of their lives. And I know soon they’ll spend more time with peers than with a mother and brother. And I know my days of influence are waning even now, even while they’re as young as eight and four. I luxuriate in their giggles and teasing because it’s my morning. This time is mine. This place, this body, this family is mine. And none of it will last. Cool will become hot, slow will become quick, giggling will become screaming, achy will become strong and active. And I am in love with the day.

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Visitors from far and near have peopled our days with fun and love. My new camera has captured more than 2,000 images seemingly on its own, for I have been present, breathing in the wonder and the joy and the fights and the mess. Focus pulls fore and back, swallowing mountains and lakes and trees and flowers, always somehow capturing two wild little boys exploring, yelling, learning, laughing. And reading. I photograph them reading because whether they read together or apart, their bodies are still for a moment while their minds race. I am in love with the flux, and I get weak-kneed at the joy of photographing our oscillations.

We went camping as a family and learned that our new, separation-borne calm kindness extends to family gatherings. So we’re doing well as a family that lives in different houses and as a family that takes trips together. And they’re doing well as three guys who develop their own rules and boundaries and rhythms. Once we returned to the house we still share but don’t really, I spent time with a friend, relaxed into myself in the way that work, run, eat, work, sleep, and more work makes parents feel like regular people who can turn off their ears and attention and fetching arms for a while. I am in love with having a self.

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It has been three months since the boys’ father and I decided we have to change a situation that brought out our worst. It’s been two months since he moved into an apartment and we thoughtfully began working out the logistics of getting us both as much time as possible with the kids. I’m up late every night researching and drafting and emailing to hammer out logistics. And I’ll be honest: I don’t like this part at all. Disentangling is a pain in the heart and in the neck. But then I make lunches and bake muffins and work on deadline and wash off my new fancy-pants blush. It’s all going to be okay. Because the days are full of play and photography and mountains and lakes and family and friends and beach and music.

Oh, the music.

Since the house lost one resident, I have been playing music almost non-stop. Old favorites and new discoveries, I have a need for the creative spark and emotional salve that music offers. Two weeks before we decided to change our marriage, I asked the googles for help finding some new music based on my preferences. I blindly bought two CDs, which is something that old people do, usually with a pang of nostalgia that they can’t go to a record store and debate between a tape and vinyl. The CDs languished, unheard, on my desk until I had to send that desk, empty, to its new home. I shifted all my work paraphernalia and personal treasures onto an underused table and nestled it into a corner recently made empty in the bedroom. And I played the first CD.

I haven’t stopped playing it for two months. Both my computer and car play the same CD on a loop. I don’t know why this acoustic-guitar songwriting duo has so captivated me. But only one CD into this new relationship with two younger men, I am in love.

Enjoy your summer. Eat many strawberries and nectarines, splash in some sort of water, photograph those you love, and perhaps invest in a new blush. Just see what happens.

And try some Juan Canary melon.

It tastes like love.

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Ode* on Music and Typography

In the mood for a good swoon? Below lies a link to a soulful duo who sing beautifully then take a break to discuss the historical origin of a ligature.

photo from americansongwriter.com

photo from americansongwriter.com

Seriously.

Even if you’re not into their music, which I am—most certainly, unabashedly, devotedly— I do believe you’ll enjoy the The Milk Carton Kids’ Lincoln Theater Concert.

What part of the hour-plus should you watch?

Perhaps at 5:28, where Joey Ryan, duo’s resident comic and poet, discusses their choice of ampersand over the word and in “the Ash & Clay” (that song follows the brief interlude and is hauntingly beautiful).

Perhaps begin your viewing at 9:17 where Ryan mocks his partner for adding a perfectly placed comma in the song “Honey, Honey.” The song follows, and is one of my top three favorites lately.

But certainly you’re going to want to watch at 42:00, right after the gentlemen finish a gorgeous version of their popular song “Michigan” (which begins at 35:38) where there is a righteous, hilarious, and awkward typographical history lesson that blows my hair back as much as the resonant harmonies and instrumentation of the songs themselves. Y’all, this rock concert takes a break to discuss the etymology of the word ampersand. It goes off the rails a bit before “Snake Eyes,” but I don’t care. Both men are irresistible: funny, talented, soulful, and a bit shy. I think I’m in love.

And if the glorious per se discussion piques your interest, listen in on their Portland Sessions.

A wonderful friend asked me as I drove her to dinner the other night, “Why are you playing this depressing hippie music?”

Now, she might be one of the best humans who has happened into my life, but she totally misses the point here. Aside from the fact that I love, love, love depressing music, for I do. The Milk Carton Kids, however, are cheerful, hipster acoustic folk, not depressing hippie music. Remarkably wordy, funny, compelling, and dreamy.

Duh, anonymous friend. Duh.

Enjoy.

*Yes, I know an ode demands a lyrical stanzaic structure quite different from this Teen-Beat-esque post. But I don’t much care. I’m tired, there are ligatures, and I’ll be damned if I’m pretentious enough to actually compose strophe, antistrophe, and epode about my music crushes. And I wasn’t going to get much traffic with “Ekphrasis on Erudite Concerts.” Just let me casually title my posts and get back to singing in my car, would you please?

Counting Lucky Stars

This week, my little wrecking crew of a three-year-old closed me into the kitchen as I made lunches.
“Shhhhhh,” he said. “I just really need some quiet.”

Whuck?

My shoulders dropped several inches and I breathed the air of joy and silence and adrenaline-dissipation. Peace was mine for at least 30 seconds, and it was sweet.

Later in the week, my little bundle of raw nerves, almost-eight-year-old took a deep breath and started to chill the heck out.
“I just need some space,” he calmly told his shrieking little brother. “I might be allergic to you.”

Again, I measured my relief in decreased tension and increased oxygen intake. I had space to breathe twice in a week? Genuinely, seriously unheard of.

And then, today, two of the boys slated for our impending birthday sleepover party told their moms that they’d really rather attend just the waking hours of the party. I had offered to each family the opportunity to sleep here, or to stay right up until teeth brushing, go home, and return for the morning breakfast and egg hunt.

Having two children opt out of the giggling, silly, late-night horse pucky that is trying to get elementary-school children to sleep? I swear to all that I hold dear…this is a Pope verifiable miracle. This represents three deep breaths in a week, and I am so grateful that I’m going on a tear of charity donations, random acts of kindness, and willful support of those who normally irk me.

I’m almost to the point of skipping, dear readers. Seriously. Life is good, kind, and glorious.

And now that I think of it, it all started when Jimmy Fallon hit some incredible notes on The Tonight Show.

Maybe my unbounded joy, immeasurable good fortune, and serendipitous droplets of magical fairy nectar this week are because of the history of rap.

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Anything amazing happen to you this week?

Was it better than quiet and calm in the midst of two feuding brothers?
Was it better than this?

Best. Meal. Ever

Maybe exceptions prove the rule, or maybe exceptions build new habits. I’m hoping it’s the latter.

There is generally copious stress during meal prep at Chez Naptime. The seven-year-old Peanut wants solitude, and if he’s not alone he wants to torment. He’s tired and hungry and not at his best. The three-year-old Butter wants…ah, hell, I don’t know what he wants. I’ve mentioned the tired and hungry and general ill temper, and they run standard in his body, too. But he’s also Three and wont to a)mimic behavior of all stripes and b)freak out for various, mysterious reasons.

So I try to make a meal while hollering encouragement from the kitchen. Wash, rinse, slice…. “I hear you finding compromises together. Thank you!” Peel, peel…. “You said that so kindly; can you hear his kind request and respond?” Chop, chop…. “I hear someone frustrated. Does anyone need help?” I set up projects and offer stories and put on dance music and ask them to help me make dinner.

But they’d rather wrestle and bicker and make it known that they need attention. Attention that I offer the whole rest of the time we’re together but that they reject unless I’m actually doing something with the stove. Then they don’t ask for attention so much as create maelstroms that demand my immediate and full focus.

And so I got buy-in from Peanut over the break that maybe dinner preparations are a good time for him to sneak off with the kittens to do his homework. And I asked Butter if he would help me make dinner.

And for once it worked. And I had to quickly change the plan to involve things he could do easily. He cracked the eggs and got ooky hands, but no shells in the bowl. I anticipated a freakout from the “I want to be capable but I’m Three and my hands suck at doing stuff and that makes me mad” chapter of parenting a preschooler so we talked about messes and how they’re part of cooking. We talked about the important stuff that’s hard to undo, like yolk in meringue. But this task involved scrambling not meringueing and there are no mistakes in scrambled eggs but tiny shards of shell. No shell? No problem.

He sliced two bananas. (Interestingly, he sliced his banana neatly and evenly. His brother’s he hacked into alternately huge and malformed pieces. I thought it might have been because he was holding the knife upside down the whole time, but the difference in banana from “this one is for me” to “this is for Peanut” was quite clearly not tool-dependent.)

He asked for something else to cut and I grabbed a couple of field roast sausages. He had an awful time with the butter knife, so I debated giving him a steak knife. Why the heck not? We reviewed knife rules: touch only the handle and place your free hand far from the blade. And as I handed him his first ever serrated knife and took from him the butter knife, I swooned at how warm his chef’s tool was. It was the sweetest, warmest, Butteriest butter knife in the world at that moment because it radiated earnest, adorable labor. Grownup, hard work cooking for his family. I considered putting the knife in his baby book instead of the sink. But I’m a bit of a germophobe, so I chose hot water and soap.

He cut the sausages and not his fingers. He asked if he could warm them up. I had wanted to heat them in a pan, but I’m raising a man, and he needs to feel capable so he takes risks and embraces learning as part of a journey toward mastery. So I told him yes and gave him a bowl. He put the sausage bits in a bowl, slid them down the butcher block counter, dragged his stepstool to the microwave, and opened the door of that appliance straight into his forehead. He rubbed the wound a bit and asked what to push. I listed numbers, he found and pushed them. I showed him how to make the magic happen. He pushed that button and ran for his life.

Then he wanted to keep going. He took the cheese out of the fridge and dragged his stepstool over to the stovetop for sprinkling onto the eggs. He warmed up some peas. He toasted bread. He spread butter. He set the table.  He poured waters.

And he went upstairs to get his brother.

No yelling. No bickering. The gentle beckoning of one who wants to feed one who is hungry. They washed their hands and sat down. I told Peanut that his little brother had made dinner.

“Oh, yeah?” he asked Butter kindly. “What part did you do?”

We listed the steps my tiny little guy had completed.

“Wow. That seems like a lot. Really good work, buddy.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Peanut asked me who had cut the banana. I pointed to his brother.

“You’re pretty good at cutting, Butter.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“That was a kind thing to say. Thanks, Peanut, for noticing his cutting.”

“Sure.”

They ate every bite of every dinner. They were polite and calm in the bath. (whuck?)

They took turns deciding which book got read. (double whuck?)

My three-year-old went to bed feeling that he had done something special to make his family happy. My seven-year-old went to bed feeling proud of himself and of his brother.

Y’all, this kind of evening has never happened before, and I swear to you, every time I use a butter knife I will feel that sweet, chubby-knuckled pride in my hand. I will hear my eldest praise his brother for work that clearly meant a lot. I will hear my youngest ignore that praise because he knows his own pride is infinitely more important that what people say about his efforts.

Oh, dear heavens above, this felt good.

I’m going to go get that butter knife out of the sink.

Second-generation fencer

I have to admit to unreasonable happiness—nay, untoward joy—that my son showed interest in fencing. And that his friend initiated a conversation about trying fencing. And that my sweet and wonderful coach, a fencing master with decades of experience teaching kids to fence has classes we can actually attend.

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I will also admit to actual tears watching the man I’ve appreciated for 20+ years show my dear little guy, whom I’ve only known for about eight years, why a foil is not a sword (because it’s made dull, flexible, and not intended to harm), why the en garde position is ideal for fencing (showing less target, weapon hand in position to defend and attack), and why the sport is called fencing (offense then defense then offense then defense in rapid, unpredictable succession).

I beamed with pride watching Peanut’s personality show itself on the strip. Though cautious and analytical, he rarely hesitated and pursued opportunities without the sort of relish you kind of need for a sport where someone is pointing a stick at your face.

And I laughed a bit dragging him and his friend out the door several hours later, telling them that it’s better to leave wanting more than to leave after the fun has worn off.

Peanut said, on the way home, “I think I want to fence every day.”

His friend said, long after bedtime, “I just can’t sleep. I can’t stop thinking about fencing.”

And I teared up a bit more about that. I’m not a pushy fencing mom, and if they both want to quit after the first month I’m fine with that. But it feels really good to hear them relish something I love. Because it’s nice to share something…really share something…with your child.*

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*I’m not actually sharing it with him yet, though, since he refuses to fence me during open fencing. But some day there might be a moment he’s confident enough in himself and in my  ability to modify my technique to fence a beginner that we’ll have a photo of us fencing together. Five bucks says I cry. A lot.

Full of thanks

I’m grateful, eternally, for my two healthy, happy boys.

And I remember that every day and every night, including last night when my eldest woke me with the scared yelp of a child just before he throws up. Poor guy. Puked all night, thanks to a fever that hit after he went to sleep. No Thanksgiving gathering for him today. But lots of chess and cards and movies with his dad, who also missed the family gathering. My poor little Peanut.

The little guy accompanied me to my favorite holiday, a huge family potluck in which we catch up and celebrate family for half the day. Butterbean didn’t celebrate as much as I did, likely due to the gash in his chin from a fall just after our early dinner.  He’s bled through several bandages, and though I’m grateful for family with better first aid kits than I have in the car, my preschooler is thankful perhaps only for the frozen fun-size chocolate bar that his auntie used as an impromptu ice pack when she saw the blood.

I’m grateful that there are more discussions lately about the nuanced legacy of the first Thanksgiving, coloring the fable of glorious perseverance to reveal, too, the harm caused by European exploration and colonization of North America. I’m glad we’re talking about the terrible ways in which our ancestors treated the tribal peoples native to the place we are so thankful for, because if we can’t talk honestly about the nasty blemishes in our history, we’re not what we claim we are.

I’m grateful for the friends and family in our lives this year, because I know next year will be different. I miss the friends we lost this year and I’m glad I got to meet them. I’m sad for the friends and family who aren’t doing well, but I’m glad that I met them and got to share lovely bits of their lives. I’m grateful for those recovering, and I’m grateful to be able to help, even in small ways, those who aren’t.

I’m grateful for the clients who pay me to write and to the readers who graciously read what I write.

I’m grateful for living in a place with amazing weather and fabulous food.

I’m grateful for the opportunities still open, even as I check my panic at those that have closed.

I’m grateful that tonight we’re safe, we’re warm, we’re fed, and we’re healthy.

Not many can say the same.

What are you grateful for?

Batkid’s Mom

Oh how I cried today following the escapades of the miraculous little boy whose leukemia is in remission and who asked the Make a Wish Foundation to make him Batman.

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San Francisco complied in muthafugging spades, y’all. Told they could make a dream come true, the best city in the world said, “oh, we can do better than that.” The red carpet was rolled out for the caped crusader, and his family watched as more than 12,000 of our desperately kind residents played along and cheered for mocked up superhero situations.

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The Department of Justice joined in. The FBI. The S.F. Giants. The President of the United States. All cheering for a boy who pretend-saved the city, because we all knew that he actually made it through a terrible, life-threatening disease.

And in every photo, I sobbed at two particular images: his family and the crowds.

I started crying when I saw Batkid’s brother, dressed as Robin, because leukemia is hard on siblings, too. Like all major illness it puts parents in a precarious position of needing to give one child 150% and needing to find another 100% for the healthy sibling. So I cried for Batkid’s brother, whom I’m positive is loved and doted upon, but who also went through family turmoil with that leukemia.

I wept for Batkid’s father. The guy who wanted to be Batman all along, to have superpowers and carry his family away from the pain and the fear and the chemo and the private life lived publicly in a hospital. I cried for how powerless they probably felt during the whole, terrible, awful ordeal. And for how fear probably creeps in at night, reminding both of the adults that remission is a wonderful but terrifying word.

And how I sobbed for Batkid’s mother. Just as powerless as dad and just as hopeful for a superhero miracle. Full of love and fear and anger and hope and exhaustion and sadness from the moment of diagnosis. Oh, I can’t imagine. Batkid was diagnosed with leukemia at 20 months and just finished his last round of chemo. One single minute of your child with cancer is too much. Even one minute of waiting for test results and waiting for donors and waiting as hospital takes blood from your kid to tell you if he’s going to live is just too many minutes. One is far too many for anyone to endure. So I cried for Batkid’s mom and for all the moms.

And I cried for our friend who went through a similar diagnosis and terrifying year of medical upheaval, too. And who now has a wonderful, healthy family and for whom I can’t even articulate my joy and sorrow and pride because it’s all just too big.

Yes, it’s glorious that a whole city put aside business to cheer for a child. We have heard so much of bickering and governments paralyzed with petulance, death and destruction and famine and global weather catastrophes…it was heavenly to just cheer. And cheer and cheer and cheer for a classic triumph of good over evil.

But damn I cried for Batkid’s mother and father and brother. And for him. I cried for Miles. I’m so glad Make a Wish executed this amazing feat. I’m so proud of San Francisco for transforming from a warm, welcoming city to the model of compassion and heart. I’m so thrilled for Miles and his family that he’s healthy.

I’m just so grateful for something to cheer for.

Go donate to Make a Wish. And to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And to the typhoon victims. And contribute to every bit of kindness you can in this world, because gawd it was nice to have Batkid Day today.

Now *this* is what I signed up for

I’m pretty sure the gardeners, whom our landlord insists on paying, stole our rake today. So after I muttered to myself and raked four small lawns with my kids’ toy rake, the little guy and I lay on our backs and watched the sky. And he gently pulled something from my eyelashes, telling me, “just be still, Mommy. You have something on your eye-brown.”

The cuteness, people, erases all the rake-theft grousing.

We were running late on the way to school and there were a few tantrums about not getting dressed and not going to school and not wanting a cream-cheese-on-pumpkin-pancake sandwich and not wanting a jacket because “it’s hAWt, mom!” And all of these ruffled my feathers not a little, on a day where there wasn’t much time to breathe. But the hour I had to chill a bit involved my oldest teaching me to play chess, as Spouse taught him.

The awe and connection, dear reader, eliminates all the tantrum exhaustion.

The doorbell arrived just as my seven-year-old put my king in check. I’m not a good loser, and I seethed on the way to the door. Damned delivery ruins my damned mojo and likely loses the damned game for me and this damned whippersnapper trained by his damned father…box from Cowgirl Creamery. No, seriously, y’all. A surprise package from my favorite West Coast cheesemongers and cheesemakers and cheeseteachers. Inside the familiar white paper and balsawood box, beneath the recycled-paper faux straw is some Mt. Tam, our favorite triple creme brie, a large wedge of Wagon Wheel, the tastiest and mildest aged local and organic we can find, and some seasonal porcini-mushroom-encrusted washed rind cheese. And a phenomenal cookbook I hadn’t known even existed (because each trip to the Ferry Building or Pt. Reyes Station has me tasting all the salty, nutty sheep’s milk cheeses I can find while blindly ignoring all the environmental staged thrusts of jams and crackers and cookbooks).

The savory, creamy goodness, y’all, eases all first-time chess losses. Especially when the accompanying cookbook solves, in just the first chapter, my dilemma about wanting phenomenal coffee at home without any plastic. (Yes, Chemex is probably ideal, and my almost-all-stainless french press is okay, but cold-brewing is exactly my kind of make-ahead and use-as-you-go goodness.)

So my eye-browns were tidy, my brain full of chess (and evidence that my son is a diabolical mastermind), and my belly full of cheeses. But dinner was fraught and bath was looming and the children were wrestling. Again. There is apparently something hilarious about kicking your brother, literally, out of bed. One hundred times a day and despite repeated requests for some feet on the floor and bodies in the bath. And I’d had it. So I called my mom. Because nothing makes the kids pay attention to me like my ear near a phone.

Sure enough, they started bickering and calling me to intervene. I shut the door. They hollered louder. I walked into their room and signed, “stop; you hear him say stop, then stop,” to one; and “you bath now” to the other. And they laughed a gleeful, devilish laugh and hid under the bed. Problem solved. I continued listening to a story about a friend’s daughter who survived a fire and my mom’s subsequent story  to her friend about my PTSD after the fire. Just hearing the woman’s harrowing escape I cried, sad that anyone has to go through those moments just after a tragedy in which they call people, trying to be logical and thoughtful moments before falling into a million pieces of writhing fear.

And I hear giggles.

The dreadful little monkeys had shed their clothes, hopped in the bath, and were laughing that they intentionally disregarded the house rule about emptying bladders before getting in the bath.

Ugh. Little goofballs stopped my fear and my tears with their artisanal urine brine because they were beaming with pride that they’d joined forces and tricked me. I love being bested by my bestests.

The silly beauty, my friends, staunches fear and sadness.

Here’s hoping your eye-browns and your chess set and your coffee grounds and your cheese needs and your grin muscles are all attended to this week. Because melting into the cute and the awe-eliciting and the delicious and the comforting will cure what ails you. I hope.

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