Monday, December 29, 2008


There are certain home-movie clips I'd like to have on hand, along with a personal assistant who would play them on demand. For example, upon holding a newborn and feeling the sharp pang of longing in my gut, I would shout "roll the tape!" and the nearest wall would show choppy scenes (soundless but for the old-fashioned ticking of the film) of my chubby-bunny-postpardum-body, hunched and resembling the grim reaper, patting the crying newborn propped against my shoulder. The film would zoom in on the clock, showing 1 a.m., 3 a.m., 5 a.m., then cut back to me, looking even grimmer, alternating between nursing, changing tar-baby poops, and patting the baby's back.

To drive the point home, the film would then show a certain date on which I did not have a newborn in my home-- say, June 2, 2008, and zoom in again on the clock: 10 p.m., me in bed, 2 a.m., me in bed, then 4:30 a.m., me still in bed, sleeping soundly upon a drooly pillow, the only noise in the whole house the quiet and peaceful dripping of a leaky faucet. I would gently hand the newborn back to its mother, offer a kind remark about its sweetness and beauty, then head for the door, clicking my heels into the air like Maria in The Sound of Music, carrying her guitar-case to the Baron's house upon escaping the Abbey.

Later, finding myself at the end of my parenting rope, feeling the strands of Love, Joy, and Mercy unravelling in my grip, leaving me dangling on the precipice of the abyss, one finger wrapped fiercely around Hope, I would shout "roll the tape!"

The film would again materialize upon the wall, this time showing the offending child at his/her cutest.

Eli: calling out sweetly from his bed at 6:30 a.m., "Can I come to Mama's bed?," then sandwiching his small, soft body between Tobin and I, delightedly wiggling his bottom back and forth, then accidentally poking me in the face with his bony little elbow and patting me gently, saying, "Oh! I sorry Mama! You okay?," then leaning in closer, his sweet-hot breath on my face a preamble to his whispered words: "Mama, come closer so I can give you some nice snuggles."

Or Sylvia: running into my bathroom in the morning, stripping off her jammies, hunching her naked body into the shape of a little bird, perching like a baby owl on a branch in front of the floor heater, scrunching her face into various silly and welcoming expressions since words elude her at this hour, then, without warning, spinning her legs like a cartoon runner and sprinting out of the bathroom, leaving spiraling dust bunnies in her wake.

Or Eleanor: jumping out from under my blankets when I come to bed at 10 p.m., pouting her bottom lip to say, "I tried to go to sleep but my heart just kept saying, 'I want Mama,'" then, ignoring my scowl, smiling broadly and leaping out of bed to follow me into the bathroom like a faithful puppy, asking me one hundred questions about make-up remover, zits, and floss as I get ready for bed, then moving into a series of existential questions involving the universe, people, and made-up animal breeds with horse hooves and dog fangs, my face initially showing annoyance but then a rush of love as a magical shift in perception changes my time from scarcity into abundance.

I know that someday I will sit in a comfortable chair and hanker for the days of my youth. I will sniff the air like a blood-hound, hoping to conjure the smells of newborn babies, spit-snuggled blankets, and dirty necks through olfactory memory. And then I'll remember my trusty personal assistant, and I'll command in a craggly yet authoritative voice, "roll the tape!"

I'll expect the wall to show my young husband, looking handsome and acting kind, and my children-of-old being cute and hilarious. I'll be surprised-- but just for a moment-- to see instead a clip of myself making dinner at 34, my face surly and tired, surrounded by three interrupting children, each demanding different and competing things, one pushing another aside, while the third clamors up onto the counter to get a better look at what I'm cooking. Then I will laugh a wise, ugly, old cackle that comes from the depths of my flabby old-lady belly, not caring if anyone hears me, and I will feel blessed from the top of my dry, flaking scalp to the bottom of my splitting, yellow toe nails.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas, Heavy on the Advent

Perhaps there's such thing as too much time to prepare for guests, I thought as I scraped three-year-old Halloween stickers from the window with an exacto knife.

The house was so clean I imagined that if it spoke, its voice would sound like a squeaky rubber ducky. The guest room closet, the storage room, the piles of construction paper, glue, ribbon, and yarn from the art room...we cleaned it all, creating a huge mound of "household goods" to donate to the first curb-side pick-up-for-charity-van that comes down our street. The fridge was full of food; the daily menu neatly printed and magneted to the front. We had three new board games, three new liquors, and a list of potential outings that read like a "Christmas in Seattle" brochure.

But the snow. That beautiful, peaceful, quiet-making snow, shaking resolutely from the sky as if intending to entomb us within our homes, the whiteness and volume reminding me of my blind Nonnie gently shaking salt into her hand and then dumping it out on her food. It persisted day after day, thwarting pre-holiday school schedules, closing down government, and demanding that everyone stay home to think and prepare.

So I organized our CDs, cleaned out medicine cabinets, sorted and purged toys. I prepared six pie crusts, wrapped them in swaddling, um, foil, and lay them gently in the freezer to wait.

Then the first call came: Tobin's parents could not come. There was too much snow, for goodness sake. They couldn't drive out of their half-mile long driveway to get into their little Eastern Oregon town much less drive to Seattle. Still, Tobin's sister and her family would come, so there remained hope of cousins playing cheerfully and adults sipping wine.

Then the second call came: Tobin's sister would not come. She took her 5-year-old daughter to the doctor because of a lingering cough and found out she had pneumonia. Thus, there would be no grandparents, no cousins, no sisters and in-laws; only our little nuclear family, a phrase which, at this point-- after too many days home-from-school, home-from-work, home-home-home-- only brought to mind images of Chernobyl.

I'd like to say that, with the grace of Mary herself, I serenely uttered heavenward, "let it be as you have said." That I didn't, for example, sulk around the house for a day or so, questioning whether the in-law's driveway was really unpassable, or whether pneumonia was even contagious, or why I am part of this family that can't problem-solve its way out of a simple little snowstorm. But frankly, I've never related to Mary very well. She is perplexed when the angel visits her, whereas I would be scared stupid. She accepts the news of her impending pregnancy right away, whereas I would, well, negotiate a little. ("Hold on there, Gabriel/Michael... can I call you Gabe/Mike? Do you think there might another option? Let's not be hasty. Would you mind just talking me through God's thought process here...")

Still, I did spend some time thinking about the little ironies in our predicament: whereas there was no room in the inn for Christ to be born, necessitating his manger-birth, we had many rooms, all clean and ready, and just lacked guests to fill them with. While I'm sure that a creative pastor could turn this into a sermon, I personally don't understand its significance, or whether it means anything at all, other than perhaps I have an overdeveloped literary sense.

We tried to invite the Christs among us to come on over and share in our bounty. But friends were busy with plans already made, and we didn't extend the invitation to the Other Christs, you know, the hungry and cold living a few miles away at Tent City, or the bag lady outside our neighborhood QFC.

So perhaps it is right and well that I felt a little lonely this Christmas, that it was more "Silent Night" than "Joy to the World." Evidently you don't need clean windows to welcome a baby.

Come, long-expected Jesus.
Ignite in me
a flame of joy that cannot be snuffed out by personal disappointment.

Come, long-expected Jesus.
Create in me
a yearning for peace that permeates my family, my community, this country, and the world.

Come, long-expected Jesus.
Kindle in me
the ability to love each person as you love them.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Creep

I'm startled when I see the man out the front window. I'm expecting that at any second Eleanor will walk to our house and up the front stairs, coming home from the school bus.

He's tall and gangly, this man; accompanied by darkness. It's in his face, which is shadowed by a navy or black hood. It's in his hands, tightly gripping a chain leash, against which a brown and black doberman strains. It's in the inward curve of his posture, which reminds me of a trench-coated highschooler, plotting his attack for months in a dingy basement before bringing the gun to school. Everything about him screams deviant.

He's walking toward our house, toward the corner that Eleanor should occupy at this very moment.

Wait here, I say quickly to Sylvia and Eli, I don't like the looks of this guy.

I shut the front door behind me, cutting off their questions in mid-sentence: What guy, Mama? Why don't you like the look...

Impossibly, in two seconds, hundreds of questions flash in my mind. Has he been watching her? Where would he take her? How many hours of daylight remain so we can search for her before it gets too dark? Do I call 911 first, or a neighbor to take care of Sylvia & Eli while I chase after him in my van?

I bound down the stairs and reach the corner just as he's walked past it.

There's no sign of Eleanor yet. Her bus is evidently running late.

I am relieved.

Then, with growing alarm, I watch the man as he walks his dog up the stairs, and enters the house next door to ours.

I see now: he is our new neighbor.

My plan is to introduce myself to this man, to bring him a plate full of cookies, or a loaf of homemade bread. I want to look him in the eye. Perhaps I'll find no darkness there after all.

(I never should have read The Shack).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rules to Live By

"Oh Maaaaaaw-Maaaaah," yelled Sylvia a few weeks ago, "I see some sunshine on the ruuuuu-uuug." She thought it important that I be notified immediately, since I live by the following rule:

If you see a patch of sunshine on the rug, make like a cat and lay down in it.

I figure this is a good rule to live by. If you've never gotten in touch with your feline side, you might not understand. But if you've ever curled up on the warm rug, then streeeetched your body, then carefully curled back up to fit your body within the patch of sunshine, then you know that this rule makes good sense. In fact, you are likely adopting it as your own rule right now.

Evidently I have a penchant for the prone position, because another one of my rules is that

I will take a Sunday afternoon nap as often as possible. When it's Sunday, that is.

I have been taking a Sunday afternoon nap for as long as I can remember. Not every Sunday, mind you, but more often than not. I remember the delicious feeling of climbing into my bed in junior high and high school, my body melting like wax into fixed grooves, and waking up just in time for dinner (which was cinnamon toast or a bowl of cereal, since Sunday night was Scrounge Your Own Food Night in our house). Thankfully, Tobin respects this rule but does not live by it himself. Since he's not a napper, he is available to get the kids the heck out of the house on Sunday afternoon so that I can sleep in peace. This means that however much I appreciate your invitation to Sunday afternoon lunch, I will weigh it heavily against the possibility of missing my Sunday afternoon nap.

Living by these maxims as I do, I completely understood when my friend C told me she'd decided on a Drumstick Rule. She may have called it the Drumstick Proclamation; I can't remember for sure. You know Drumsticks? Those ice-cream-cone shaped frozen snacks with the nutty bits on the top? Up until the advent of the Rule, she'd been in a quandry each and every time the cafeteria at her work offered them for dessert. C would mentally calculate how much running she'd done that week or was likely to do that evening after work, whether she'd been eating healthfully during that week, and other complicated mathematical computations involving mental graphs and spreadsheets. Then one day she decided to throw all of that thinking out the window. They're only offered once in a while, she reasoned, and so from now on, when they are, I'm going to eat one without question, she thought to herself. Hear ye hear ye, let it be known:

C will eat a drumstick for dessert whenever they are offered at work.

What rules do you live by? And I'm not talking about the Golden Rule here, though I did recently find it written on a heart in 1st grade handwriting, in a version that I call King James meets The Message:

Do unto uthrs just as you wud like to be tridid.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ants on the Freeway

I am a passenger, stuck in traffic on the freeway.

Looking out my window, I notice an ant colony marching with purpose, carrying tiny bits of something on their backs. I observe them for several minutes, while traffic is at a complete stop, noting that their entire operation occurs within inches of the fog line.

I feel empathy for these ants, working so hard, oblivious to the dangers lurking inches away.

Just then I imagine my own life, with my daily happenings, and I wonder what dangers a wide-angled view might reveal. With my mind I shrink the traffic jam into a tiny dot and the whole earth to the size of a bouncy-ball. Still, I can't see what danger prowls just out of view, waiting to ambush me and all of humankind.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

It's too cold and wet to be at the park; our solitary presence here proves this point. I wipe off the slides and swings with a sweatshirt someone has left behind, but the water smears, then reforms tiny rivulets, refusing to absorb. Sylvia leads Eli and I on a hike through the "woods;" her word for the dirt path, tree-lined perimeter of the park.

As we wind our way back to the play area, I see three tall boys enter the park. They are too old to be at the park at 10 a.m. on a weekday, I think; shouldn't they be in school? Anticipating the inevitable lighting of cigarettes and tossing about of profanities, I intend to keep a close eye on them. Just then one boy sprints to the swings and enthusiastically jumps on. He pumps and swings, kicking off his shoes once he reaches the desired height.

For a moment, I am surprised, but then I smile, believing I know these boys' secret. They don't want to grow up! They miss the swings and slides of their childhood! They've cut class simply to play at the park!

Visually locating the other boys, I recognize immediately that it isn't so. One boy has pilfered a plastic rocking horse from the baby area, and he's pushing it through play-tunnels, over rocks, and onto the dirt path, like an overgrown toddler with a tonka toy. His energy is focused on the toy with laser-like intensity; he takes no notice of Eli, who is watching him nearby.

Now I see the third boy-- only now I recognize he's a grown man-- talking on his cell phone. "Yeah, we're at the park. No, it's fine; they're cool right now," he says to the listener, and then continues on with some mundane conversation. Intermittently he checks on the boys, but his gaze conveys only the cool attachment of a paid caregiver.

It's time to leave the park now, and I push the stroller past the boy on the swing. Despite the chill in the air, he points bare toes to the gray sky, and smiles inwardly, without showing any teeth. I keep walking, wishing I could whisper an incantation like a secret password to gain admittance into his world, if only for a moment, if only just to ask him what he thinks about when he looks at ants up close.

Monday, October 06, 2008

"On Shoofly Pie & Homemade Pudding," OR "How I Became Amish This Weekend"

Some of my life-altering decisions can be traced back to the confluence of seemingly random events. Just over a year ago, Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" joined forces with a random blog comment from a New Zealander, and I was forced to rethink my food consumption. At that time, I made the radical and personally unprecedented decision to cook our meals from scratch using local, whole ingredients.

Now another change is coming to my household, this time brought about by the coupling of an Amish Cookbook with a friend's random comment.

Please allow me to explain in three short Acts.

[Act One: Those Amish Folk are Doing Something Right.]

Unlike the previous 4 weekends, last weekend we didn't travel, or overschedule, or do much of anything, really. We were able to sit, and be, and think. I got my Sunday afternoon nap, which is a sure indicator of a successful weekend.

On Saturday, I brought over a portion of Green Enchiladas ("Simply in Season" cookbook, p. 145) to my elderly neighbor. She had a treat waiting for me: a book called "Amish Cooking for Kids." I dove into the cookbook when I got home, revelling in the drawings: rosey-cheeked Amish children in home-made clothes bearing baskets of fresh-baked bread, children frolicking outside and carrying bushels of just-picked apples to the horse-drawn cart, and children polishing their shoes with a brush while their little brother pulls his hand-made wooden toy by its string. Sigh, to be Amish is to be happy, I thought superficially. Well, except for the strange beards without mustaches, I mused, my Amish husband would need to be clean-shaven.

[Act Two: Those Regular American Folk are Doing Something Wrong.]

On Sunday after church, I hugged my friend Beth. "How're you doing?" I asked. "Good," she replied, "just busy. You know how it is, just really busy." I do know how it is, and I've given that answer many times in the past: "Oh we're all doing well, except we're just too busy."

I've had similar conversations with other friends countless times, but this time-- no doubt because of those rosey-cheeked children-- it got to me. I spent part of Sunday afternoon noodling over the problem: Why are we too busy? Who decides what events go on our schedule? For the most part, we do. Who decides when and how much gets done? For the most part, we do. So who needs to accept responsibility for making us too busy? We do!

[Act three: Let's Become Amish!]

Sunday afternoon while Eli napped upstairs (truth: banged against his door shouting "I don't want to be IN HERE!"), and while I napped on the main floor (truth: drifted in and out of sleep, disturbed by Eli's banging and my mental disconcertion over our lack of Amishness), Tobin and the girls went outside to pick our apples. Instead of bushels they picked a plastic bin-full, and instead of loading them onto a horse-drawn cart they simply placed them onto our front porch. Still, I was happy with their efforts.

Post nap, for a blissful period of, say, ten minutes, Sylvia washed apples, I sat on the couch and peeled the apples, and Eleanor nibbled the peeled apples as we all listened to a classic version of Beauty & the Beast on my iPod (from this site).

Really, it was lovely.

In the evening, Tobin and I had a dinner date, at which I made the following announcement: "I think we should get a bunch of money and buy a farm in Mt. Vernon and spend our lives raising crops and eating them, and teaching our children simple pleasures such as string games, bread-making, and banjo-playing."

After a good laugh (by Tobin) and a long conversation (in which Tobin reminded me what farming is really like), we settled upon the following changes:

*No more mid-week TV or movies for the kids. Instead we will have Movie Night on Fridays, complete with popcorn and snacks.

*This means that after dinner, we will play together as a family. We will divide and conquer, with one of us playing games with the girls while the other occupies Eli with some other activity.

*We will try to get outside with the kids as much as possible.

*When we're not late, we will not hurry. (Duh!)

*We will continue to limit extra-curricular activities to avoid spending our lives shuttling the kids from one event to another. This means Eleanor will not be a Campfire Girl and may never learn ballet. (So be it, Amen and Amen).

*We will say no as much as possible to commitments that only serve to make us busy.

*We will reinstate Monday night Family Meetings, in which we light candles, sing an opening song, learn about a virtue (tonight was Gentleness), talk about our week, sing a closing song, and blow out the candles.

*We will endeavor to say YES when the kids ask us to do something healthy with them.

*We will be deliberate in how we choose to spend our time.

*We will not, in fact, actually become Amish. Yet.
Are you also struggling to combat busy-ness? Please comment and share your best ideas with me!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Missing Summer Before It's Gone

Glancing out the window into the backyard, I see that two neighbor children have joined my monkey-girls in the maple tree. The air is crisp and fresh, like a crunchy piece of celery, but lacks the biting chill of Autumn. The kids are still dressed for summer-- shorts and no sleeves. They play in the shade long enough to realize that they are cold, then run to the sunny spots in the yard to warm themselves like lizards on a rock. Though school has started, these kids are squeezing out the last evenings of summer like water from a sponge.

I look out the window and watch their willowy legs, now too long for last year's pants. I see the maturing way in which my children interact with their peers. Their games are more complicated, their imaginings grounded in facts and maxims recently learned. They are testing gravity with a complex entanglement of jump-ropes, which Eleanor has spent the last few weeks methodically installing in the tree. I wonder-- not for the first time-- whether jump-ropes and trees are a safe combination, but I can't bring myself to stomp on their fun with my giant Safety Patrol boot.

We walk to the Farmer's Market for the third-to-last time for this season. In two weeks the market will close and we will mourn its loss until late next Spring. I buy Strawberries at one booth-- "they are ever-bearing," the lady explains-- and they are all gobbled up before we get home.

I think about my summer: the too-much rain, the fighting children, the long stretch of unstructure that unnerved me. But when January rains trap us indoors like Noah on the ark, I know this will be the summer day I long for: the one that tasted like celery and strawberries, and felt like lovers parting ways.

Friday, August 01, 2008

On the Bus

"Goin' to work?" he says as I sit down next to him. Oh boy, so it's going to be a conversational bus-ride, I think, but then immediately check myself; okay so he's friendly, what's the big deal? Show a little humanity for pete's sake! "Yes," I reply, "you too?"

"Nope, I'm headed to the grinder to get this part ground down to the right size for my motorcycle." He reaches into his pocket and reveals a little pipe. "This'll save me a couple hundred bucks, you know. They told me it was a $600 fix but I thought no way, I can do it for less, and I figured out I could order the part on the internet in a larger size and then just have it ground down to the size I need. Yeah, people on the internet were making fun of me for the idea but then they came around and they were like, 'oh yeah, I think that just might work!' So I'll let them know when it does and maybe this'll just be the new way for people to save some money."

"Well, it sounds like a good idea," I reply, trying to remain open-minded to this one-sided conversation with a stranger.

"Where do you work?" he asks. I hate this question. Do I reveal my employer and risk a stranger's misguided judgment about my profession? Will he turn up at my work and stalk me later? "I'm an attorney," I answer truthfully.

"Okay, attorney, I have one for you." Here we go, I think. It's either a lawyer joke or a request for legal advice. "I was on the bus a year ago," he begins, "and the floor was really slippery because of the rain, and the bus slammed on the brakes rather than miss a stop and I fell forward and broke my ankle."

"Oh wow, what a bummer," I say.

"Yeah it cost me about $4000 in medical bills, you know, and when I confronted Metro they were just like 'well good luck with that' and just sent me on my way. So what should I do?"

"Well, you could file a claim in small claims court, that might be a place to start," I say. He isn't interested in my answer.

"I've spent some time in the law," he says. "A couple years ago my neighbor thought I tried to shoot him."

Oh boy, I think. I nervously check his hands; Is he hiding a weapon somewhere? I'm thinking about this horrible news story that I read yesterday. One minute you're sitting there and the next minute someone is stabbing you, I think.

"Huh," I laugh nervously, "that seems like a hard thing to misunderstand." I mean, either you tried to shoot him or you didn't, I think.

"Yeah, I was the guardian for this guy's father. They kept his father in the garage, [what?] you know, and this guy just wanted to stop me from being guardian so that he could get his father's house. He needed an intervention, an intervention with a 357 if you know what I mean."

Oh my goodness, I think. What am I supposed to say to that? Can I move seats at this point without provoking this man to violence?

He blathers on, "The court didn't believe him. The judge was like, 'I've known you for years' to me, [Known you for years? The judge? And why would that be?] He didn't believe what that guy was saying. So I got a deferred prosecution and it was dismissed six months later. That guy was just a bad guy, you know he broke his daughter's arm once and tore half of her ear off. Some people just need to be put to sleep."

I'm looking around, trying to make eye contact with any of my fellow passengers. I'm sending out a telepathic S.O.S. I want them to be aware that I am sitting by a weirdo; to be ready to intervene if necessary.

He switches topics, back to the motorcycle part and which bus he's going to take to get to the grinder's. "Well, good luck to you," I say to him as I rise to get off the bus.

"Oh, there's the bus tunnel; this is where I need to transfer," he says.

He follows me off the bus and I power-walk the 2 blocks to my building, trying to seem friendly and unsuspicious as I glance over my shoulder.

It is 7:45 a.m. I unlock my office and use my key-card to enter. I'm sweating and my hands are shaking.

Now it's 4:45, and I scoot over to make room for the passenger sitting down next to me. A spicy smell washes over me; half sweat and half something else. I listen to the after-work chatter around me. Now a couple is arguing loudly as they stand in the aisle: she is positive that $1.75 plus $1.75 equals $2.50 while he is certain it adds up to $3.50.

I turn toward my seat-mate to get a better look at the faces of the couple in the aisle. I notice now the source of the unidentified spice: my seat-mate is holding a large sprig of rosemary. He turns and catches my eye, holding up the plant like a child showing off a new toy.

"It smells goot, yes?" he asks. He smiles like a first-timer; all a-marvel at the simple discovery of something so wonderful. "Yes, very good," I say, mentally noting his accent and beautiful dark skin. "It's called Rosemary," I say, guessing that he doesn't know. "Rosemerry," he repeats, flashing big white teeth to indicate his approval. He brings it to his nose and inhales the scent, then offers me a sniff. "Mmm, I love that smell," I tell him, breathing in deeply.

"Did you know you can cook with it?" I ask him. "No, I just got it. Somebutty tole me about it," he says, "Wha can I cook with it? Maybe in a soop?"

"Sure, in a soup is good," I say, and explain that he can either put the whole thing in the soup and then take it out before eating the soup, or he can dice up the needles and leave them in the soup to eat. "Ohhh, I don' eat this part," he clarifies, pointing to the woody stock. "No," I laugh, "it won't taste very good."

We talk a little about where he's from. Ethiopia, it turns out. He's been in the U.S. for a few years now, starting out in South Dakota, where he worked in a meat factory. "It's just so cold there," he says, "it snow for six months."

He's trying to register for an ESL class. He's trying to get a job. He's living with his sister and her husband. "Seattle is just so beeg," he says several times, "what a beeg, beeg city."

I wish him good luck as I get up to leave, "with your job search, and with your rosemary."

He offers a wide smile as he waves goodbye.

It is 5:05 p.m. and I walk toward home. I'm happy and my heart is dancing.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Toast to Two Good Chickens

Our neighbor Gene is an urban chicken farmer. Actually his skills are not limited to chickens; he farms turkeys and ducks as well. "The fowl trifecta," Tobin calls it with equal parts envy and admiration.

Seattle City Code allows 3 fowl per standard city lot. Gene laughs in the face of this code. He thumbs his nose at it! He pecks and scratches at its limitations! At various times over the last few years, he's had 20 turkeys, 10 ducks, and 8 chickens. Don't worry, these chickens aren't abused. There's a fair bit of free-rangin' going on, with chickens learning to check both ways before they cross the road (note the exercise of restraint on my part here-- ah, the jokes I could make!)

My children are friends of these fowl. Gene calls us whenever he gets a new batch of birds. He wants my kids to hold, touch, and tame the birds, so that they are used to being around people. He wants the birds to be good neighbors, which seems an obvious-enough goal when one considers that a call from a distgruntled one (neighbor, that is, not bird) could muster the city's Farm-Animal SWAT-team to his home (with, in my imagination, the Simpson's Chief Wiggum at the helm).

It's tricky business, though, this bird-loving that my children do. For these birds are not exactly pets. Their existence is less tenuous than that of their factory-produced counterparts; still, they come with an indistinct expiration date. Gene likes his paella, heavy on the chicken.

Last week Gene announced his intentions, and with good, sound reasons. Two of the chickens--Blacky-White and Whitey-White-- who were but wee chicks last Spring, had not been properly sexed. It turns out they are not hens, which are allowed by city code, but are males, which are strictly verboten. They spent each morning, afternoon, and night joyfully announcing their manhood to the neighborhood without one thought about the dire consequences. Thus, Blacky-White's execution date was scheduled, along with that of three old hens who were no longer producing eggs. Gene didn't mention Whitey-White, and so we assumed his death sentence had been postponed. This made sense, at least for Eleanor, who reminded us that Whitey-White hadn't "gotten his crow yet."

The death-day approached, and we stopped by Blacky-White's coop in order to pay our last respects. The girls collected worms from our compost pile and presented them to Blacky-White as a token of their friendship; the chicken equivalent of a prisoner's last meal. The girls blew iridescent bubbles, filling Blacky-White's head with visions of beauty on his last day here on Earth. At Eleanor's prompting, we took some photos so we'd "never forget our friend Blacky-White."

Later that day, Eleanor said coolly that she wasn't sad that Blacky-White was going to be killed. "Gene promised to give me some of his tail feathers," she explained. I was surprised she was coping so well.

The execution day arrived.

Tobin went with Eleanor and Sylvia to check on the extraction of the promised tail-feathers.

They returned home immediately, Sylvia looking dazed, and Eleanor crying hysterically.

Eleanor threw herself into my arms, where the following conversation ensued:

Eleanor: "Gene killed Whitey-White AND Blacky-White, Mama! It isn't fair! He didn't tell us that Whitey-White was going to be killed!" (sob)

Me: "Oh honey, this is a terrible surprise! You weren't prepared for this."

Eleanor: "We didn't even get to say goodbye to him. He didn't even get any worms to eat. His chicken friends will wonder where he's gone and they won't know! They will miss him!"

Me (In my head): Well, I'm pretty sure his chicken friends have figured out what happened to him, since they most likely saw him get the axe. I'm hoping there's no room in their little pea-brains for compassion or empathy.

Me: (Out loud): "I'm sorry you didn't get to say goodbye to him. That's really hard. Poor little sweetie. But I have a feeling that you'll miss him more than his chicken friends will. Chickens don't think about much other than pecking food, scratching dirt, drinking water, and roosting."

Eleanor: "But why didn't Gene tell us about Whitey-White? It isn't fair! Whitey-White didn't even have his crow yet!" (more sobs)

Me: (Choking back tears of my own seeing Eleanor in such despair): "I don't know honey. I don't know. But I think that Whitey-White had a good life. He had food, water, a nice coop, lots of bugs and worms to eat, and he earned the love of two little girls."

And so, please join us today as we raise our milk-cups to toast Blacky-White and Whitey-White, two good chickens. May their coop always be filled with bubbles.

Three Children, Six and Under

My children are driving me crazy.

They are one biting-hitting-screaming incident away from being posted for sale on eBay. (I've written that ad in my head but it is too offensive to repeat here).

When will the hitting, biting, screaming, fighting, whining, manipulating, and complaining stop?

I'm NOT coming out of my room! Ever!
I don't even like that food!
It's not fair! Her turn was longer than mine!
Hey Mama, we went pee in the garbage can instead of the toilet!
Don't touch me! Don't even look at me!
I've never even LIKED you, not even since you were BORN!
These socks are being mean to my feet! I CAN'T wear these!

When will they be able to put on shoes and socks without complaining about seams that are too scratchy/pokey/bothering-them-for-inexplicable-reasons-that-cannot-be-articulated-in-words?

Are there children's socks specially made for tactile-challenged children?

Is there a system for washing socks so that they come out ready-matched?

Why is it that the success or failure of a morning can be measured by how well we handled our sock challenges?

Can I get an amen out there, or am I the only one suffering from the
Childrearing Blues right now?

Lately I hear my own voice as I speak to my children. I am impatient, on-edge, less than gentle. This morning I came very close to yelling "You are such a brat!" to Eleanor. I barely applied the verbal brake in time, yelling instead, "You are so uncooperative!" as Eleanor rejected the third pair of socks, screaming and flailing as if I were trying to feed her feet to a lion rather than stuff them into socks.

What do I need? A Love & Logic refresher course? More Vitamin D? A long vacation without children? Prozac? Nanny 911? I don't know what would help.

I'm tempted to add a running count to my blog-page: Number of Days until all of my children are in school. That seems wrong somehow. But it really would encourage me.

It's not a good feeling to not like my own children. It makes me not like myself, either. But that's how it is lately. That's just how it is.
Note: Don't let the cute pictures fool you. I only included those to distract you from my own incessant whining.

Friday, May 30, 2008

On my 34th Birthday

It's a strange feeling to reach the age my mother was when she died. In a few days I'll be older than she ever was. Simply put: much too young to die.

Thus, this year was no ordinary birthday for me.

As a gift, Tobin researched, hired, and paid a piano tuner to coax my old upright piano back to melodic perfection. To me, this celebrated the positive ways in which I take after my mother.

And to honor the myriad of ways that I am different from my mother, I gave myself a gift: I researched, hired, and paid to have my nose pierced.

Lean in closer, and receive the message that my pierced nose proclaims:

I am young.
I embrace change.
I am beautiful.
I am happy with who I am.
I am alive.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Many years ago, my paternal Grandma awoke with a start in the middle of the night. Something—she’ll tell you it was God—told her get down on your knees and pray for Wes. She climbed out of bed and did what she was told. For many hours, she prayed for her son without knowing why. Wes called from the hospital the next morning to tell her his appendix had burst in the middle of the night.

Many years later, my cousin Shauna traveled from Kentucky to Oregon to visit my Grandma. When it came time for Shauna to leave, she told her father, "I just can't get on that flight." Shauna postponed it, rerouting through a different city. The plane—the one Shauna was originally scheduled to be on—went down in a cornfield in the mid-west.

Around that same time, my maternal Grandmother went to the nursing home to break the news to my Great-Grandmother, Nonnie that my mother had died. But before Grandmother could say a word, Nonnie told her, “I know. I know.” Nonnie said she had a vision of my mother rising up and being received into the arms of Nonnie’s husband, who had died 6 years earlier.

I have visions, too. Premonitions. A sense of knowing. I guess it runs in the family. It’s nothing lucrative or transactional, like the ability to predict the stock market or winning lottery numbers. It’s more akin to a leaky faucet than a fire hose, coming and going at random intervals. It’s always intertwined with human relationships, powered by love, faith, and common sense.

Eleanor was nine months old in 2002, when we temporarily misplaced her. We were vacationing for a weekend with a group of friends in a big, old Victorian house. After playing a board game, I went to check on Eleanor, who’d been playing at Tobin’s feet in the next room. “Where’s Eleanor?” I asked when I didn’t see her on the floor. “I thought you had her,” Tobin replied. As if snapping a photograph, a single image flashed in my mind: the sweeping wooden staircase with its multiple landings. I ran to the stairs and took them in twos. I found Eleanor, who could crawl and not walk, who could climb up stairs but not negotiate her way back down, sitting at the top. Facing forward, she dangled her legs over the top stair. She hummed happily and rocked back and forth as she contemplated her next move.

Nine months later, I was making dinner in the kitchen while 18-month-old Eleanor played in her room. Chopping an onion, my knife poised mid-air, I became certain that Eleanor had thrown up onto the rocking chair in her room. Grabbing a towel, I padded down the hallway to her room. I found her standing wide-eyed by the chair, pointing at the pile of vomit.

All in all, I’m glad I inherited this family trait. It certainly can be useful.

My sister only got knobby knees and bony elbows.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A post-- not fit for Mother's Day-- About My Mother

She plays the piano with gusto, waving her long fingers over the keys with astonishing speed. Like a snake charmer, she coaxes forth melodies composed by the piano itself.

Uninvited, Anorexia sidles next to her on the piano bench. With hot breath, it whispers promises in her ear with no intension of keeping them. It beckons her to follow, luring with a curved finger.

How can she resist? Her internal alarm should provide warning, but a thick layer of self-doubt muffles its clang. She sets off, in pursuit of lies too good to be true.

At first, she has the capacity to choose. She eats, then eradicates all traces of eating; only a few calories leak into her body. The results are impressive. Her chubby thighs, meaty biceps, and flabby post-partum belly disappear as if by magic. She is the magician.

The needle on the scale reflects her loss: 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 pounds.

Then the pain starts. The imbalance of electrolytes causes leg spasms like hot knives searing into her calves. She seeks solace in hot baths, augmenting the temperature with boiling water from the stove.

Anorexia sucks the pink out of her cheeks, leaving them the pallid gray of dry cement. Dark clouds cover her sunken eyes. Her skin hangs from her bones like melting wax. With no remaining body insulation, she tries in vain to make up in blankets what she’s lost in fat.

Now she plays the piano only for a few minutes at a time, tucking several afghans around her small frame. Depressing the piano’s keys taxes her creaking finger joints.

Anorexia removes her ability to choose. Stealthily, it rewires her brain, distorting her body image and ridding her of insight. The scale says 87 pounds, but she is unable to discern its prophecy. In a fit of honesty, a relative tells her she looks “like a walking corpse.” She hears the description, but can’t reconcile it to herself.

Like her atrophied body, the world darkens and shrinks. Days bleed into years. She lies in a waterbed trying to find a comfortable position. Her life fits neatly within the four walls of her bedroom.

That’s where they find her, when they arrive home from school.

Her husband and two daughters remove their shoes and walk on the plush blue carpet, down the hallway that leads to her room. They see. Her body is in bed, but her mind has traveled to the dark, unknown realm of a coma.

She dies two days later.

The piano is silent, covered by a thin layer of dust.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I am walking my children to the school bus stop. At eye-level, I see the delicate blossoms on the apple tree. They are angels, garbed in flowing white, waiting to receive their souls in the form of an apple. They whisper sunny incantations, and pray against frost.

There’s no time to ponder their beauty. Six-year-old Eleanor is impatient, standing at the curb waiting to cross the street. Her speed is hampered by her entourage; four-year-old Sylvia and two-year-old Eli can’t keep up. She waits, dipping her foot into the street as if testing the water in a pool. With her tongue, she searches her gums for the tooth she recently lost.

Eleanor is looking forward to this kindergarten day, in which she’ll field-trip with her pals to the Children’s Theater. She has selected her clothes accordingly: short-sleeved tie-dyed shirt under a plaid-front satin dress, with red leggings underneath her hot-pink faux suede boots. She is part ruffian, part fashion-model.

Looking into the flower beds at the bus stop, Eleanor finds a worm. She speaks to it first, so it won’t be afraid. Then she picks it up and shows it to Sylvia, Eli, and the other kids at the stop. Eleanor boards the bus in her fancy dress, happily smelling like dirt.

Long after the bus has departed, Eli continues shouting, “Bye-bye bus! Bye-bye Nelnore!”

Our numbers reduced, we head for home. Sylvia jumps onto a neighbor’s railroad tie and puts out her airplane arms for balance.

Passing the apple tree again, I think I see the blossoms give way to tiny beginnings.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Conversation on the Bus

My brain held hostage the words I should have said, releasing them into my mouth too late to be heard. I suppose that’s the nature of a meaningful conversation: you need to swish around its content, tasting the sweet, salty, sour, and bitter before deciding whether to spit or swallow.

I did not expect to engage with anyone the day I met Dan on the bus. It was one of those mornings when I looked forward to work as a reprieve from my other responsibilities. Both drop-offs, at daycare and at school, had been ugly. Once on the bus, I realized I’d forgotten my book, and as I silently cursed, visualizing its location—on the small mail-table by the front door—I saw him board the bus. He was dressed in dark denim jeans and a gray polo shirt, with short salt-and-pepper hair, and thick, matching lashes that framed his honest blue eyes. Though he was handsome, I ignored him at first, turtle-ing into my shell of bad-day-self-pity. That’s when I saw his eyes searing the bus as if seeking answers instead of a seat.

“Good morning,” I said, resolving to be cheerful as he took the seat next to me. He narrowed his eyes, as if debating whether he could return my greeting with integrity.

“Um, not so good a morning for me, to be honest,” he said.

“Are you okay?” I asked in a soft tone. I searched his eyes for a reason to be afraid of the conversation this question invited, but I observed nothing but truth in them.

“My brother was killed in Fallujah four years ago today,” he replied, recklessly maintaining eye contact. My cheeks flushed with shame as I briefly considered my previous self-pitying thoughts.

And then I thought: Fallujah. Amnesia, Fantasia, Fallujah. A whimsical name for such a place.

Out loud I offered, “You can talk about him if you want. Your brother. I don’t mind,” then added, in a foolish attempt to garner a smile, “I forgot my book today anyway.” Immediately I regretted the words, which unintentionally dirtied his honest self-revelation with the stain of entertainment. He smiled almost imperceptibly, forgiving my faux pas.

“Well, his name was Kevin,” he began. “He was killed on his 38th birthday. You know, he was nominated for a Bronze Star with Valor the month before he was killed, but didn’t even mention it to the family? That’s how modest he was. He was full of contradictions. He always got good grades, but he had to work hard for them. At 6 feet, 4 inches, 220 pounds, he had this imposing presence. Yet he was one of the gentlest people I’ve ever known. In high school he was pudgy. But he was smart and motivated. He started running and lifting weights and poof! He transformed himself into this strong, healthy man.”

Dan laughed softly, staring down at his hands as if seeing Kevin’s there instead of his own.

Kevin had this strong sense of honor, even as a kid,” Dan continued. “This one time, he and I built this cool clubhouse in the woods near the elementary school. That was all good and well,” Dan laughed, “except that we’d stolen the wood from a nearby home-construction site. I’m not just talking a few remnants. We unwittingly took—and then cut and nailed—this custom-ordered beam that was supposed to be the centerpiece of this guy’s living room.”

“No way,” I laughed, feeling the solidarity that comes with remembering silly childhood mistakes.

“The homeowner followed us home one day and confronted us in our living room, in front of our dad. Totally like a sitcom from the 50s, you know? My dad’s face turned beet-red, and we knew we were goners. Then Kevin stepped forward—I’m not even joking—and said, ‘Dad, it was my idea to take and cut the wood. We were building something and just got carried away. It was my fault. I was the oldest and I was the leader.’ That’s what he said—‘It was my fault,’—his voice steady in the face of my dad’s rage. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”

I nodded and smiled as we sat for a few moments in comfortable silence.

“You know, he could have become anything,” Dan said.

Why didn’t he? I thought. Why would anyone join the military in this day and age, knowing we fight wars for all the wrong reasons, choosing death over diplomacy in our greedy quest for power?

Dan’s words interrupted my thoughts: “People have this image of military guys being all Rambo. Out for blood? Kevin wasn’t like that at all. He just wanted to help people. That’s why he went to the Air Force Academy. He planned to fly, but it turned out his eyesight wasn’t good enough. So he transferred to the Marines. He’d send these pictures to us from Iraq. Snapshots of him sitting with all of these Iraqi children, or meeting with the elders in Iraqi communities. For my brother, that’s what his career was all about. He just wanted to help with peace, you know?”

I nodded my head in silence.

“This next stop is mine,” I said, feeling the weight of my own insensitivity. I wished I could stay longer, to see this through. “I’m really sorry about your brother,” I said as I stood up to leave.

“Thanks. So am I,” he replied, looking me straight in the eye.

As I made my way to the front of the bus, opposing thoughts danced in my head. Sacrifice linked arms with Greed; Honor with Cowardice. Grief tipped his black hat as he ushered Gratitude onto the dance floor. They swirled and twirled, faster and faster, until I was unable to distinguish one from another.

As I descended the stairs, only one dancing thought remained, clothed in a gauzy white dress that seemed to absorb and obliterate the surrounding darkness. It was Gratitude.

I turned, too late, to say the words I should have said earlier.

“Thank you,” I whispered to Dan, as the bus pulled away and disappeared around the corner.

This was written as an assignment for a Creative Writing class I am taking.

**I would really appreciate any constructive criticism that you could provide about my writing. Are there gaps? Does it make sense? What would you change?**

Assignment #1: Interview someone in the class, and turn it into a story, advertisement, personal ad, or whatever. I interviewed Dan, who, in turn, told me about his brother Kevin. For the story, I changed the setting and filled in the gaps with research from the internet. If you have the time, please follow the links to the other pages about Kevin, because I know that when you hear his story, you will also want to say "thank you."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Morning Gift

"Owie, ooowwwwie," Eli cries from his bed. It is 6:10 a.m. His low, scratchy tone tells me he's not really hurt. It lacks the high-pitched urgency of true injury. I tiptoe out of my room, carefully avoiding the squeakiest floorboards, stretching my legs like a frog hopping on lily-pads. Eli will go back to sleep in a few minutes, I think. I still have 50 minutes of early-morning peace coming my way, and I'm looking forward to a cup of steaming hot tea to soothe my scratchy throat. I want to see Tobin before he goes to work, to sit on the couch together and eat breakfast quietly, like we may have done before we had children. (Who can remember now?)

"Mama? Owwwie," Eli insists from his bed. "Owwwwie."


I turn his knob quietly and enter his room. "Do you need covered up?" I ask, seeing that he's bucked off his blankets during the night. "Yeah," he answers, his voice muffled by the pacifier in his mouth. I find his favorite snuggly blanket and tuck it around his body. He signals his approval by wriggling his bottom back and forth like a puppy wagging its tail. I turn, ready to make my escape.

"Mama stay with you," he says gently.

"I'll snuggle you for a minute, and then I'll come check on you in a while, okay?" Believe it or not, sometimes this works for me. I pat his back and spell his name in gentle rubs. His breathing slows. I think I see his eyes close, but I can't be certain in this early-morning darkness. I gently rise and head for the door.

Eli wails as I shut the door, and I hear him sit up in bed. The gig is up.

Still, he is only half awake, which means that his other half would rather go back to sleep. "Would you like to snuggle in Mama's bed?" I ask as a formality, already knowing the answer. "Yeah," he says, and he reaches up toward me.

In my arms, he melts into my body, he moves his head until he finds the nesting groove that he loves, part-way between my shoulder and neck. He is so instantly relaxed that I briefly wonder whether his condition is achievable in adulthood without the assistance of drugs or hypnotherapy.

We situate in bed, with me on my side, one arm chicken-winged under my pillow, the other hugging Eli. He lays on his back, perfectly still, sucking his pacifier. Periodically he sighs, in complete satisfaction: "Mmmm. Mmmmm."

I breathe in the smell of my two-year-old boy. I detect a hint of sweet vanilla pudding from last night's dessert. I know we wiped his face...perhaps he hid some in his hair? This mixes with the faint musk of earwax, the sweet of saliva, and the earthiness of his hair. As I inhale, the potion goes straight to my bones, and I am fortified as if by calcium.

We doze quietly as the light in the room morphs from black to gray to purple to blue. In this barely-light, Eli wakes up. He remembers he has a second pacifier in his hand, and he brings it up to the one in his mouth, as if his pacifier needs pacified. He turns toward me, the curve of his smiling lips peeking out from behind his pacifier; he knows this is a funny joke.

"Mama want some?" Eli generously offers his spare pacifier. "No thanks," I say, and turn my head, knowing he might insist. "In your ee-ah?" he says, putting it on my ear, then "In your aye?" as he gently pats it against my closed eye. "No thank you," I giggle, and then tickle his tummy to return the favor.

"Are you ready to get up?" I ask.

"I jump?" he requests, happily raising his eyebrows in anticipation.


We roll out of the covers. Eli jumps on the bed while I get dressed.

He puts his chubby hand into mine as we open the door and step into the day together.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Birthday Haiku: To Grandpa with Love

Sing "to work to work,"
the hungry babes must be fed.
He marries the soil.

Child with no mother
learns to shoulder mothering
the crops on the land.

He sings in the fields,
coaxes food where there was none;
blows snot in the dirt.

He battles the land,
bugs and pests and government.
He calls for a truce.

His white flag waving,
he emerges from the loam,
feeling he has failed.

He trades in the plow,
receives books and a backpack,
a powerful pen.

He sings now of peace,
of love for all humankind.
He's friend of the birds.

In his chair (I hope)
he breathes sighs of contentment
for all he has done.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Get Out the Iron Supplements

If you know my Sylvia, you understand why we sometimes call her our Little Goat. This girl, she'll eat anything. The less food-related, the better. So it came as no surprise tonight when I spied Sylvia and Eli, playing together in the backyard, shovels and buckets in hand. Their mouths were outlined with dark, sandy dirt, and their fingernails were black, causing them to resemble inductees of Goth Toddlers of America. They dug shovels into buckets for seconds.

"Stop! That is NOT FOOD!," I yelled, then stated what I thought was patently obvious: "It's not even yummy!"

"Yes it is, Mama," Sylvia replied encouragingly, her words gritty with the contents of her mouth. "We put cat food in it."

Ooooh, well. As long as there's cat food in it...
Lest you believe that the above photo was taken in our backyard, I feel compelled to disclose that it was not. It is a recent photo from our vacation in Mexico, added here to spice up this otherwise miniscule post. One would never say our backyard is manicured our even well-maintained. To label it a Mudpit would be more accurate. Wanna come over and play? We'll supply the mud and catfood; maybe you could bring drinks...

Sunday, January 27, 2008


A sign that I need to go lock the medicine cabinet.

Sylvia, walking toward the bathroom, rubbing her belly in anticipation:

"Hmmm, I sure am HUNGRY for some TOOTHPASTE!"

A sign that I need to stop blogging and go do some parenting.

Eleanor, in her "listen-to-me-I'm-the-teacher" voice:

"Sylvia, watch closely because this is what you'll do in a minute when you're in the laundry basket."

[THUNK THUNK CRASH as the plastic laundry basket goes bumpity bumping down the stairs].

A sign that truly, I have married the right man for me.

Eli, seeing me paint the girls' fingernails, wants to have his fingernails painted, too.

"Want pink," he declares.

Tobin gently picks him up, rummages through the shoe-box of nail polish, and finally selects the brightest, sparkliest pink.

Tobin's eyes dance as he exclaims:

"Oh boy, Eli! This pink'll knock your socks off!"

Monday, January 21, 2008


I have a vivid memory of pumping my legs furiously on the swing, my best first-grade pal Kathryn keeping pace beside me, the crackling, almost-visible energy around our little bodies building to a crescendo as we sing at the top of our voices, "Oh the sun'll come OOOOUT, TOMORROW, bet your bottom dollar that TOMORROOOOOOOOOW, there'll be sun..."

Since then, I've often thought about that cheesy song on the eve of big events. More than once, I tossed about in bed, thinking that after tomorrow, my life would never be the same. I'd bury my Mama. I'd be married. I'd graduate from law school. I'd have a son. (Eli was the only child with a scheduled delivery date; the girls kept me guessing).

I've never, ever stared at the ceiling, wishing for sleep, wondering what it will feel like to recover from a double mastectomy. I've never marked a night with the simultaneous thought of everything I stood to gain, yet everything I'd have to lose, with the removal of my breasts. But Susan has. Tomorrow is her day; the day she has fought for months to bring about; enduring round after round of brutal chemotherapy in order to make the cancer operable. Tomorrow is the day after which nothing will ever be the same. For the better, and the worse.

So this time, Susan, I'm singing for you. I'm in that swing again, pumping my legs as hard as I can, pointing my toes, willing my legs to grow so I can touch the limbs of the nearby tree. The sun will come out. I can already see it as it peaks through the branches.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ode to Sunshine

Yesterday, Diana, Sunday School Coordinator, asked the kids, "What have you been praying for lately?"

One four-year-old hand shot up, and answered in a squeaky but earnest voice: "Sunshine." Beyond the laughter, I swear I heard a collective "Aaaaaaaa-MEN!" rise up to the heavens from the soggy streets of the unchurched Emerald City.

Then, behold: the sun did shine.

After lunch, Tobin took Sylvia on a two hour walk around the neighborhood. Not a Forward March with a purpose, mind you, but rather the kind of meandering stroll wherein it takes an hour to travel eight blocks because one must stop to examine, touch, and smell so many treasures on the way. They stopped to visit with a man drumming wildly on the sidewalk, working bongos and a sliding bell contraption simultaneously. He regaled them with tales--generously embellished--of his travels throughout the world. He asked if Tobin could spare a "Donation to the Arts." He thanked Tobin and told him that he really should visit the good french bakery conveniently situated behind him. Then he disappeared just as the jolly baker materialized--wiping his hands on his apron--as the rolls, pastries, and goodies beckoned behind him, leaving Tobin to wonder whether he'd fallen prey to an elaborately choreographed Pastry Set-Up. Sylvia ate her first-ever eclair, focusing on the chocolate icing and vanilla custard; neglecting the pastry as any four-year-old should.

Later, we took our film canister rockets to the park, and (fueling them with Alka Seltzer and water) launched them into the sky. Eli discovered an abandoned dump truck. Sylvia came upon a large patch of mud. After a short period of intense examination Sylvia pronounced it as "Very Good Mud." She and Eli worked together to transport the Very Good Mud, load by load, into the sandpit, in a scheme that involved sticks, digging, mud-splashed pants, a wee bit of mud tasting, and two very happy children.

Later, on a walk in the dark, Tobin explained to me the evolution of the sun. If this were a novel, I would call this chapter: Talk Nerdy To Me. He outlined how the sun is fueled by the something-or-other of hydrogen plus helium, and how eventually, however many million years from now, the hydrogen will run out, and the sun will be left with just helium, and it will go psh psh psh and blow up like a giant, hot balloon. Don't even think about livin' on Earth when that happens. Word, people! Bust open the freezer, invite the neighbors over, and have yourself a good old fashioned Hurricane Party, 'cuz there aint no reason to hold onto that frozen roast anymore! Later, after the sun runs out of helium, it will start working through-- using whatever word is the opposite of that something-or-other above-- oh yes, this is Fision, the one above is Fusion--all of the elements of the Periodic Table, until it finally gets to lead. At that point, the sun will shrink to the size of a tiny leaden bullet, and with a metallic plunk, will fall from the sky into a shiny silver milk bucket. Tobin didn't actually say that last part, but that's how I imagine it going down.

When we got home, Tobin took the kids back outside, for the night was clear and there were stars to be seen. With star-chart in hand, he pointed into the sky, excitedly directing the kids' attention to each constellation, calling them into being with the power of his Papa-hood. As I wiped off the dining room table, I glanced out the window to see Tobin and the kids sharing their galactic discoveries with a 70-something neighbor who was out walking her dog.

Oh, the things one can see, do, and discover on a day filled with sun!

Sadly, even as I write this--periodically gazing out the rain-streaked window into my swampy backyard and my half-rotten, leaky, rain-abused garage--I look upon yesterday as one reminiscing a vacation spent many years ago, in a beautiful village in Mexico with a name long forgotten. Maybe I actually went there, but maybe it was only a character in a novel I once read. I can't be sure.

Just now, hearing our cat Atticus meow mournfully from the back porch, Eleanor declared in her most pitiful voice, "Mama, I know what he wants. He wants to get out of the rain. He wants the sun to come back."

Better say your prayers, kitty.
If you have a minute, stop by my other blog at Living Lightly & Deeply, where my friend and co-blogger Kathy has posted her New Year's Resolutions.