Friday, January 9, 2015

River Makes A Mint

"You promised him $3.19 for what?" I asked my 9 year old son, River. He had just come home from school, flung open the front door, and was beelining for his room, backpack still on and in defiant violation of the no shoes policy that I suck at enforcing. His friend was waiting outside, the friend that has an endless collection of Angry Birds t-shirts and, apparently, a home filled with exotic pets; the friend who had already acquired a dollar and some change from my son in exchange for him finding River's missing foot. You know, the tiny plastic feet you earn if you run a mile around the school track. The elementary kids at Riv's old school would collect them and string them onto necklaces. The more you had, the faster you seemed. River was content with two. And apparently, with half his foot collection missing, he was willing to pay handsomely for its return. 

"An Icebreakers Duo." River answered. He was headed for his dresser, sights set on his camo wallet. 

"Wait, what? An Icebreakers Duo. Isn't that a mint?" I asked, shaking my head. I wasn't positive if that was true. I feel like I just don't even know the candy aisle anymore. 

"Kinda," he answered.

"Holy NO WAY are you giving him that much money for mints. I could buy you that for a dollar at the grocery store. You are not giving him $3.19. In fact, I honestly don't think you should give him anything. But this is your decision to make. Make one. Go talk to your friend."

He shrugged, but didn't balk, he seemed to understand. He turned and went directly back outside to his waiting friend. And so I returned to my task at hand, which was helping my 6 year old try to understand that in order to count by 5s, one doesn't necessarily always have to start counting at 5. I hope she remembers these special math times with her mama. 

I heard the front door shut, completely this time, and I turned to see River finally shucking off his backpack, and kicking off his shoes in the entryway -- without untying them first. He looked up at me. He pulled his hand from his pocket, unfurled his fingers, and there in his palm was one single mint. He smiled proudly. 

"I talked him down to a dollar." And then he popped the mint in his mouth and went to his room. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Oh Tenderfoot, do I have a story for you. Put your head back on your pillow, rest your eyes, and I’ll tell you a story about the most magical of loves.

I was upstairs and in bed, not yet asleep but well on my way, when I heard a click-clack tapping coming from the kitchen just down the stairs. I looked to Tim with eyebrows raised and shrugged, “Well who could that be?” I asked. “It must be Dexter,” he answered. Of course it must be Dexter. Your click-clack tapping sounds much more like stomping. But that would be remarkably unusual. Every night when you kids are home with us, Dexter sleeps in your rooms. One night in yours, the next night in your brother’s. It’s part of our ritual, our routine. For as long as Dexter has been a part of our family, since he was just 10 weeks old, he has slept in your rooms. He stays there all night, only getting up to spin in a circle and lay back down in a cooler part of his nested mattress. He won’t leave your room until you do.

So back to the click-clack tapping, the shuffling drag of paws across carpeted stairs, and then my bedroom door was pushed open. Dexter’s beautiful golden face poked into the room, soulful brown eyes revealing that this was where he needed to be. He came with intention, steadily and quietly moving around the bed to sidle up next to me where he stood, nestling his long nose into the crook of my arm. His tail wagged, but not fiercely. I hugged him back, grateful for the surprise visit. Tim and I smiled and laughed; Dexter’s easy to laugh with.  He didn’t relent. It was the most persistent of gentle hugs, and when I finally straightened my back just a little, Dexter pulled away slowly and lumbered over to the other side of the bed to give Tim an armpit hug, too. And then there was a break in our giggling just long enough to hear a cry, distantly, downstairs distantly. I said, “Ohhh, that’s our Tenderfoot crying.” And I realized that that was why Dexter came upstairs, breaking his ritual, his routine, persisting in his gentle hug, successfully getting our attention.

I hit the bedroom floor quickly and ran down the carpeted stairs, thwapped my bare feet across the kitchen floor, and glided – I like to think I glided – into your dark room. Your face was wet in tears. Your foot was aching. It had been months since your growing feet had ached and made you cry. It was the first time it had happened in this house where our bedrooms were farther apart and my maternal super ears had not yet been properly broken in. You had been hurting and crying and I couldn’t hear you. But laying there next to you, loyal and loving, Dexter could. And when it was clear to him that I wasn’t coming, he click-clack tapped across the kitchen floor and relayed the message to me. And as I glided into your room, Dexter shuffle-dragged his paws across your rug, just behind me, to sit here, right here, next to the both of us. And I rubbed your foot to make the aching go away.

And while I rubbed your tender foot to make the aching go away, I told you a story, a story that happened just now and leading up to here. A story about you, and your mom, and your stepdad, and your brother, and our family’s very best friend, Dexter. What a magical love we have between us. Don't you think it's magical?

You nodded your head in earnest. I kissed your forehead and stood to leave. And Dexter snored softly, just inches from your fingertips. 

in the most loving of memories for the most magical best friend, Dexter.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Favorite things.

In no particular order, and very likely very definitely overlooking many amazing things and places, I'd like to share a few of my favorite things that I discovered/re-discovered/was introduced to in 2014. The first is Goat Lake Wilderness in the Giffort Pinchot National Park. Cransky and I backpacked there this summer along with our friends and our pups and we were met with more wildflowers than those that grew under Aslan's playful post-crucifixion pounce across Narnia. What are some of your favorite discoveries of 2014? Please share in the comments!

Podcasts - Countless times a day Cransky will instant message me with a link to a YouTube video. I ignore all of them. At any given time I have 20 open tabs in my browser, a few word docs in progress, a PowerPoint report underway, and a focus as consistent as a prism light bouncing off the ceiling. Videos? No time for that. I'll listen to OPB radio throughout my day, or This American Life, but the news can be downright depressing, and I find myself often daydreaming away from This American Life and when I'd return, Ira Glass is having conversations in a subway and I have no idea how he got there. Wasn't he just in Amish country? Then I decided to start a podcast with my friend, Rae Ann. With just a little bit of research and a sampling of iTunes offerings, I discovered a whole new world of media that let me tune in to stories of culture, humor, music, science, history and stream of consciousness awesomeness. I could listen to these while I twittered between my 20 open tabs. I could walk away and come back and easily head back through the episode chunks I missed. Podcasts, I learned, are a fantastic media for multi-tasking moms, and so the urbanMamas podcast was born. With a few podcast tutorials under my belt and some wise guidance from audio expert friends, I have fallen head over microphone for podcasts. And now so have my kids! Ever heard of Story  Pirates? Head to iTunes NOW and dig in. 12 minute episodes of kid-authored stories interpreted and told by a talented cast is the perfect background to after-school and weekends. And while you're checking out Story  Pirates, subscribe to (and review!) the urbanMamas podcast. Please. Because I love you.

Three Little Figs - My friend Leanne and I hit the grand opening of Made Here PDX this fall, and while we loved roaming through the gallery-style space and ogling the many beautiful, hand-crafted pieces of art and indulgence, we spent the majority of time with these guys because of YUM. Heads up: this has nothing to do with pork. Three Little Figs is a culinary OMG. They're technically jams, but only in the way that stretchy leggings are technically pants. They are, but they're better. I have now sampled and purchased for myself and for gifts the Balsamic Fresh Fig, Tomato Tapas, and French Onion Confit, and I'm ready to hit up my local New Seasons to grab one of their new flavors, like Citrus and Smoked Salt. WHAT. Put them on crackers with cream cheese or manchego, as a charcuterie accompaniment, or stick your finger right in the jar cause you have a flair for the don't care. Mix a little of the French Onion Confit with some crema and you've got an artisanal french onion dip that will make you seem far more clever and cultural than you actually are. Their jams are locally sourced, seasonally available, and handcrafted in small batches. They're worth every cent and food always makes a great gift. Local. Sustainable. Delicious. Bliss in my belly.

Eliot's Adult Nut Butters - My digestive prowess was unexpectedly interrupted in early December with an emergency trip to the ER and the removal of a bastardly appendix. The aftermath was a significantly reduced appetite, and an antibiotic-induced nasty metallic taste in my mouth. After a week of at-home recovery, I hobbled from the confines of the house and hit the annual Crafty Wonderland Super Colossal Holiday Sale. And between the handmade jewelry and soaps and felted nerd toys, Cransky and I came face to face with a whole new nut butter world. Subtle spice, simple ingredients, Eliot's Adult Nut Butters shot straight to the top of my "Eat This Now" list. The Spicy Thai fought the metallic taste in my mouth and took home the gold. It's been on bagels and crackers, licked off of spoons, and even, in a fit of holiday merriment, spread on the back of a gingerbread cookie. Make an adult happy. Give them better nut butter.

GladRags - I was slow to come around to the whole reusable feminine hygiene thing. Disposables were the status quo and I knew what to expect - despite some of those expectations being garbage, discomfort, unreliability, and dumbass marketing tactics. And then I tried The Moon Cup and the status quo quivered. And then I picked up some cloth pads and the status quo shattered. Period-related garbage in my life is now non-existent. My hoo-ha is as happy as a kitten on a catnip pillow. I'm saving moolah. And my undies are unmarred by the errant oopses of a dangling tampon string. BONUS POINTS: GladRags are Made in the USA by a teeny tiny, woman-run company here in Portland. Your vagina is a gateway, don't plug it up with garbage.

rockin black socks and scary tall heels at a NLP. 
Naked Lady Parties - A few years ago I helped coordinate a Naked Lady Party in conjunction with urbanMamas. Just a couple of days after the party I received an email from a local reporter who wanted to conduct an interview because he had heard about the party and was intrigued. I responded with "That sounds great! But first, just to clarify, do you realized that Naked Lady parties are clothing swaps? No one is really naked, at least not for long." The reporter, funny thing, didn't follow up. I have been hosting and/or going to Naked Lady parties for years. Everyone brings in the doesn't fits and no longer wants from their closets. There's wine. There's food. Items are organized by size and/or type. And then when all are present, we dig in and swap shop. My favorite clothes are previously worn items acquired at these parties. Between Naked Lady shopping and hitting up the best curated consignment shop in Portland, the only new clothes I ever seem to buy anymore are socks and underwear, and hell, I don't even need those half the time. BONUS POINTS: There are always leftovers from Naked Lady parties. These good finds are then donated to women's shelters, Dress for Success outlets, high school "closets", and more. You and (most of) your friends have great taste. Share it.

The Bodies of Mothers - I have been following A Beautiful Body Project since its very early stages, when Jade Beall, one of my favorite sisters whom I've yet to hug, began sharing her exquisite and untouched-up photos of women; mothers and their babies in their own gorgeous flesh. Their stories were transformative. I had ordered a copy of her first book, The Bodies of Mothers, for my old office crew at gDiapers. And then finally, on an early June morning after a long night sleeping on the floor at SFO, my own copy arrived. And I blissed the geek out. "THIS needs to be in every women's health office, in every spa and salon, in every gym, and library and health class, until it is finally driven home that the true standard of beauty is in our diversity and constant change. We are not stagnant creatures cut from hard plastic. We are soft, we are supple, we are strong, we are truly lovely. Thank you Jade Twilite Beall. I love you. I love this movement. I love the world that is being built for our daughters, for our sons and for us."

back that Air up
CrashPlanFinally an insurance plan that didn't demand my eternal soul in exchange for a slight peace of mind. I signed up for CrashPlan's back-up cloud storage service at the suggestion of a dude that knows these things. When I switched from one laptop to another, all I had to do on my new machine was log in to CrashPlan, click "Restore" and bam! all of the data from my old machine was magically on my new one. So that was nice. But then BONUS POINTS: After being on a brand new job for all of a month, the brand new MacAir that they had entrusted to my possession was stolen. UGH to the holyfuckingshit. And I had been in the midst of a project that I hadn't saved properly before logging off (I KNOW, I'm so many kinds of horrible for all of this.) And then I remembered CrashPlan, and all was well. I was even able to access my files through the CrashPlan app. I like to think of them as my own secret vault at Gringotts Cloud Storage.

all the pretty locks, and I took a picture of this one
Locks of Love at Schenley Park Bridge - This fall, I visited Pittsburgh for my 2nd time. It was a bittersweet trip with my Cransky, his bro, and our friends Alethea and Michael. It would be Alethea's final trip home to her adopted 'burgh, and we filled up the time with pancakes at Pamela's, a Ducky Tour, and a trip to Falling Water. Alethea even got to see a Steeler's game! And Cransky and I timed our baseball passion just right with our trip, and had the chance to see the SF Giants crush the Pirates in a single Wild Card elimination game at PNC Park. Gahhhmazing. Still, my favorite thing on this particular trip were the thousands of padlocks, inscribed and Sharpied with the names and initials of people who love each other, forever affixed to the Schenley Park Bridge. A public declaration of love on an otherwise ordinary chainlink bridge is just ... lovely. Because even when those we love leave us, the love itself sticks around, and I thank the stars above for that.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Appendix Diaries, part 3.

10 days, give or take. 

10 days I was housebound, recovering from the flu. Except it wasn't the flu at all. It was a perforated appendix which landed me in the emergency room at Legacy Emanual. They took the infected fucker out, gave me some pain meds and a water bottle with a straw and sent me home. My nice, warm home in North Portland. A rental. Just the basics really. But nice. And warm. And home. 

For 10 days I wrestled with a strong, but bound and held down, desire to produce. Write more! Construct more! Contribute more! Make my mark on Earth, gently, but noticeably. But my body wouldn't let me do much more than sit, uncomfortably, and feel the limitations of my own mending. 

I cried a lot, no longer from the vicious pain that had attacked my abdomen so unexpectedly and so violently. I just cried. I felt useless. So much pain in the world and I was stuck at home, my nice, warm home, unable to even make a cup of tea. Unable to even enjoy the taste of the tea when it was made for me for the metallic taste that still pasted my tongue. I cried from feeling selfish. I cried from feeling helpless. I cried because I missed my kids. I cried when kindness came to my doorstep with a copy of Humans of New York or a bag of food. I cried because I knew that I would heal, but others won't. 

10 days later, give or take, and I'm back on my feet with few limitations. But I'm holding inside me a pain that I don't want to release, a pain that has strung out like a connective tissue, an empathetic wire for friends, family and folks I see around me who are hurting. They weren't taken down for 10 days and returned to their nice, warm, home. They hurt constantly, with no end in sight, save a final exhale. I've been crying for them. 

If you have any extra you can give this holiday season, please consider a financial donation to 2 dear friends of mine. Alethea Phillips, who bravely fought metastatic melanoma and endured unfathomable pain before finally breathing her last on October 30, 2014. Her husband, Michael, is enduring medical issues of his own while still reeling from the loss of Alethea. You can help by donating here. And my friend, Daniel, who I sadly see too little of, was badly injured in a motorcycle accident and has suffered extensive nerve damage in his right arm. You can help Dan by donating here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Appendix Diaries, part 2.

Last night I talked to my boyfriend about my bowel movements, and how it hurts so much to reach around to wipe my butt.

No, wait. You don't understand.

These are things I do not discuss with anyone, ever, with maybe just these few exceptions.

1. With a toddler who just announced she made it on time ~ And then we both look in her little red potty and squeal, she out of pride and delight, and me out of the quick whistle of vomit that has sprung up behind my molars.

2. With my girlfriends who are loud and proud poopers ~ They share giggles while one poops and the other pours the wine, and I snicker like I'm listening but really am just searching for something else to clean.

3. With an entire emergency medical room staff ~ Because my body is a machine, my body is a machine, my body is a machine, and the machinists need to know how the pipes are holding up, and also, sigh, are the contents fluid or firm? 

I was married for 10+ years to a man that believed I never had a bowel movement. Over 10 years I stealth-bombed the one shared bathroom; I was a gastro ninja. I was confident in my regular irregularity, a functioning and discreet digestive enigma. The world was my stage, my heart an open book, but that was one piece that stayed behind the curtain. Keeping it secret was an ongoing victory.

But my main mansky, Cransky, loves me enough to buy me stool softener along with my antibiotics and pain meds. And then enough to ask me how things are progressing "down there".  And then I must love him enough back, because after a few TMI disclaimers, I answer.

He must love my guts. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Appendix Diaries, part 1.

I threw up hot pink jello today, right in front of my kids. I couldn't see their initial reactions of course, but they definitely didn't freak out. I had kept the whole ordeal fairly tidy, I had a gallon sized ziploc bag at the ready, right next to this chair I've come to know so well recently. The mess went straight in, no splashes, no eating contest aftermath. And actually, I took pause mid-retch and enjoyed a very blissful moment when I realized how this was the most perfect vomit experience I had ever endured. Except for the fact that it happened in front of my kids. Magnolia may have gasped, just a little, softly. And River asked three times - though not too quickly and definitely not panicked, "Are you okay Mom?" And I withheld the urge to pull my face from the bag to answer "I can't quite say, cause I'm in the middle of puking up my jello lunch. But thank you sweet boy." He was concerned but in control. And then he went to the kitchen and brought back a cloth napkin for me. He offered to refill my water bottle. Then they both gave me sweet and gentle, caring hugs. And then they returned to the table and finished their homework. If it weren't for the bag of vomit in my hands, that may have been the happiest moment of my life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Destroying the Cleaver legacy

Last night I read an editorial from Ariel Gore in a recent issue of Hip Mama. It was about breaking down the notion of the nuclear family. You know, one dad, one mom, 2 kids, middle class, white-identifying. Even if the Beav isn't your next door neighbor, the Cleaver legacy is still pervasive. It's still clung to as an ideal, even though it's complete fiction.

We see evidence of a strife to break down cultural baggage about what it means to be a man, or a woman. To re-imagine gender as not directly connected to one's genitalia. Because we're learning, slowly, that there isn't just one definition. And when you put people in boxes, their world shrinks. And then the whole world is filled with boxed up people who don't know how to grow into their own skin.

The same is true for family. We see families that are contrary to the Cleavers, the arrangements are unlimited. Single parent, 2 dads, 2 moms, grandparents, no parents, 19 children, no children by choice, no children by infertility, lost children, step-children, foster children, and on and on. We say we accept them, and for the most part we believe we do. And yet, these contrary families still feel that tug of the Cleaver legacy burden. It happens in simple moments, ordinary interactions that have no ill-will, like "Are you her babysitter? Oh! It's just I've seen her get picked up from school by another woman before." Or, "Hey, can your son come over and play today?" which is met with "I'm sorry, no, he's at his dad's until Friday." And then a response of "Oh bummer. My kid will be so sad." I'm sure your kid will indeed be so sad ... for a minute. Meanwhile, I'll keep myself busy these next few days until I see my kids again and try to catch up with them on the time we spent apart. And then after a couple of days we'll give our hugs on the front porch before school, I'll kiss them good-bye and say again, "I'll see you in a few days." To my own children, weekly, "I'll see you in a few days." It never gets less weird. It always breaks my heart. And I can feel the tug of June Cleaver's critical glance: well you were the one who chose divorce.

There are plays in motion. Our television shows are beginning to depict a new offering of what family can be. But when did looking to TV as a model for real life ever prove to be effective? There's still this tugging of legacy, that by being a "modern family" we're bucking the status quo! That status quo that still knocks at the front door daily with sidelong glances and assumptions. And when we can't (or won't) live up to the status quo, when the one dad, one mom, 2 kids and a healthy income don't pan out, there's depression, there's guilt, there's rage, there's suffering. There's still that box of an ideal that didn't work out, and it's confining. The nuclear ideal has to go away completely. I get what Ariel was saying. You may indeed be in a loving family that has one man, one woman, 2 kids and identify as white. They're yours. Enjoy each other. Love each other. Celebrate your family. But to keep that one structure on a pedestal above others -- even if we don't realize it -- is setting us all up for disaster.

There is more opportunity to grow when we're not constrained. It's physics. (Right? I never took a physics class.) But it's obvious at a basic cellular level.  A sunflower won't reach for the sun if it never sees it. We must strive to let go of tired notions of what family looks like. To expand empathy. To truly embrace each other. To be able to grow.

It's the love that defines family, not the structure. Let's all agree to aspire to love as the status quo of family, even if it must sometimes be filled with too many good-byes.