Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A New Day Will Come

"No half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.”

"Darkness must pass
A new day will comeAnd when the sun shinesIt will shine out the clearer"

- JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

My last post, on struggle, began with this line from Tolkien: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." Tolkien's words make light of difficult decisions, but they free us from the burden of projecting into the future, worrying about what others are doing, worrying about what others will do. The smaller focus liberates us to design a unique and adaptive approach to life.

Some feel that 2016 has left us in dark times. Michelle Obama spoke of hopelessness, and at this darkest point of the North American year, world and national events threaten to drown out the light of our holiday festivities.  In a sense, the growing darkness feels like a sibling to the darkness rising out of Mordor in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series. How does the ragtag band of nine companions defeat the enemy (the Dark Lord, Sauron) who threatens them? The darkness has more power, more soldiers, more hate, and it wields these tools to divide the population of Middle Earth - elves, men, hobbits, dwarves.

Representatives of all the groups take part in the quest to destroy the ring of power. They work through initial distrust and suspicion, eventually forming strong bonds of friendship and love. They call relatives and tribes to back the quest, convincing disparate groups to ally through similar passions for justice, freedom, the ability to create good lives for families.  These groups are not unlike conservatives, liberals, Christians, Muslims, Jews, non-religious, refugee, immigrant, and other groups at odds in today's world. What convictions can we unroot to bind us all?

The band of nine also has access to wisdom from the greybeard wizard Gandalf. Every time Gandalf opens his mouth he dispenses gems like the quotes above. He goads, prods, and harasses the hobbits, men, dwarves and elves to work together, to feed the spark of hope that hides in their bellies.  Gandalf's wisdom coexists with warrior strength. He stands up to a vicious demon, an embodiment of evil, protecting his followers as they flee with the memorable words "You Shall Not Pass!"  The force of love, the desire for peace, can be fierce and strong enough to oppose any evil. They are not weak, milksop fantasies. 

Who can be a Gandalf for us in these times?  Jimmy Carter? John McCain? Ban Ki Moon? We need to find our wizards and learn from them.

Tolkien began The Hobbit (a precursor to The Lord of the Rings) in 1937, as the forces of darkness were gathering in Germany. People who lived in the dark times of World War II must have felt despair and the attraction of hopelessness. But the darkness was defeated. Not forever, but for their time. It's our time now, and our quest to battle whatever darkness rises. May a new day come to pass, and may we be ready to meet it.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Struggle is the Thing

"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

A dear friend of mine just wrote a Facebook confessional in which he admitted to twice contemplating suicide. The latter occasion coincided with the day after Trump won the presidential election. My friend's beautifully written explanation of his despair and hopelessness resonated with me because I care about him, and because I have hidden in a similar dark place.

I was driven to question life's merit by physical and mental illness. Nothing so noble as a fear for the country or the human race (as my friend expressed) but an utter shock and grief at my own personal weakness drove me to wonder why I should continue to struggle.

It's taken me forty - five years to understand this: the struggle is the thing.  We're led to believe that that happiness and ease are the end-goals. Our national outlook and our economy are based on the hope that something we buy, achieve, earn, drive or eat can make us happy, can make life worthwhile.  When these tactics fail, we try others, waste decades avoiding the struggle, pretending it isn't there, hoping it will go away.

But for those who are either forced into struggle or who choose it, the struggle is the thing. Ta-Nahisi Coates expresses this idea beautifully in  Between the World and Me: "So you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope."

Verbs over nouns, struggle over hope. That doesn't sound easy and it doesn't sound fun. But Coates named his memoir The Beautiful Struggle, so despite the struggle of growing up as black male in America, he found the splendor in the struggle. No less of a pop culture authority than Iggy Azalea lines up with Coates on this issue: in the song "Work" she sings"Hustle and the struggle is the only thing I'm trusting."

The hardest aspect to swallow - akin to swallowing broken glass in your supermarket hamburger - is that we are not promised results. The struggle is worthwhile for it's own sake. There may be nothing in it for us or for our generation, and we're told not even to hope for the next. The struggle is real, and valuable, and enough.

A prematurely wise and sensitive genius, David Foster Wallace, agreed:
"No wonder we cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from the horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home" (Consider the Lobster and Other Essays).

But I don't agree that the struggle is horrific or that the journey is either endless or impossible. Neither does my friend, which is why both he and I are still around. Our shared humanity and communal struggle provide rare moments of beautiful unity, recognition of our mutual longings. We know that who we become through struggle is who we are meant to be.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Seeing the Signs

In my last post I whined about not knowing where to focus my energies post-graduation. The universe has now shown me the mission, if I choose to accept it.

When I seek help in discernment, when I'm lost and fumbling my way forward, I talk to God (the universe, if that's more comfortable) and I talk to people. God answers quite frequently through other people, as she's good at delegating.

My dilemma after graduating with a creative writing degree was this: do I look for "real" work teaching or in an office, or do I take the time to make my own schedule, my own contacts, and write? The latter option promises no money, benefits, output or water-cooler conversations. When my kids ask me what I did during the day, what can I say? I typed some pages that may never be seen by human eyes?  I was afraid, vulnerable, feeling less-than.

But the universe has a sense of humor, and it delivered a verdict with enough hammer-blows that even I could understand.  First, a kind interview was published on the Regis website, discussing my stories about men and women in immigrant detention. Then, the President of Regis University read the interview at Saturday's graduation (announcing my intent to over a thousand people). Then my older son wrote a paper about the power of literature to change society - and asked me to edit. As a final tap on my skull, I opened Reader's Digest last night to a story first promoted on The Moth, a wonderful story-telling outlet that I would like to pitch.

So, I get it, thanks. I will try my hand at writing for the next nine months or so, until the kids go back to school in fall of 2017, and I'm typing my resolution for public consumption so I won't back down. I asked, She answered. Time to put my feet on the road.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Chapters Old and New

Regis did a nice "exit" interview with me as I finish the MA in Creative Writing. Luke Graham tells my story in a way that almost seems purposeful, rather than circuitous and random, which is how life often seems to me (You can read it here: Do the Write Thing).

The article was a nice boost for my sinus-infected brain and my sense of loss related to graduation.

The fact that we're doing minor work on the house only complicates my sense of dislocation, as I'm lost in any conversation about textures, walls, ceilings, paint, color (yes, a long list). I had to meet a painter at home this afternoon so he could bid on the work.  He asked thoughtful questions about what type of paint I want and whether or not he should provide a bid on new cans.

I couldn't answer this, not having a clue about what we have on hand/have used in the past, or even what I want to do with the newly surfaced walls. I broke out the usual explanation of how I lack a gene for interior design. Did he want to see the article explaining that I'm a writer? (No, I didn't really mention that, but I was tempted.)

Whenever a craftsman comes to visit I feel inferior, remedial. Once I even told a contractor that we had a built-in ladder to the attic, so he didn't need to bring one.  Do we have said ladder?? Of course not. Hard to explain when we've lived here twelve years.

It's time to move forward with the next chapter of my life, which hopefully includes more published pieces and no home remodels. I'll miss the structural support of the Regis program and my friends and professors there. It's hard to thoughtfully shape my own life in lieu of reacting wildly to each new stimulus - but at least I know that the next chapter won't include interior design.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Let's Put the Bickering to Bed

My inbox just tweeted "75% of Trump supporters want clean energy!"

That's great, I thought. I bet they also want drinkable water and breathable air.

The next tweet was about an on-air fight between a Clinton organizer and her Trump counterpart. I didn't click on the link because really, who needs more bickering? The photos of both women looked ridiculous, their gaunt cheekbones and threatening pointer fingers sharpened for battle.

I'm tired of bickering, division, and manipulation. Most Americans are, too. We want the same things, for the most part.  Ralph Nader says in the latest issue of The Sun ("It's Easier Than We Think") "We're told that we're a polarized society, right? That's the way the ruling classes have manipulated people for more than two thousand years: divide and conquer" (Issue 492, pg 6).

Nader's quote reminds me of a story in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. In the pre-Revolutionary War South, poor whites and poor blacks began to realize how much they had in common. They started to organize against the rich landowners, agitating for higher wages. Let's say, for example, that they were all earning $4/day. They wanted $6/day for everyone. The landowners were spooked by the unity of the uprising and also ticked off because they wanted to keep the money. So they told the poor whites, "We're not giving you $6/day, we're only going to give you $4.50. But it's better than what you had, and it's way better than what we're giving the black folks. They're only getting $3.50."

There was a bit more strategery involved, but the rich landowners drove a wedge between the remarkably similar and united black and white workers. They spent not a penny more, and neither group was better off, but the revolution was still-birthed and division was sowed for future use.

Are we watching it happen again? Everyone's health care has deteriorated over the past decade, everyone's college costs have skyrocketed. Everyone's climate is imperiled. Big majorities in both parties are frustrated by the recent election. We're more alike than we are different.

Who benefits when we spend our time quarreling rather than attacking the big problems? I'll tell you who - the big corporations. They're now allowed to act like people in our democracy. They're allowed to lobby government officials, spend money on campaigns, and support candidates of either or both parties. Some of them are making BIG bucks while we argue about whose supporters are more hate-filled.

This blog simplifies a great deal, I know. Blame it on my cold, on the immense amounts of green phlegm that erupt  when I stop to blow my nose. Blame it on my Friday-night fatigue, or my holiday-tired Mom brain. But when we're done casting blame, let's put the bickering to bed, let's stop being manipulated and let's take on some of the big problems - together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Because love is so powerful . . .

I'm still struggling in this new day-to-day reality of Trump appointments and reports of hate crimes. Politica has temporarily abandoned me, her fiery rhetoric and passionate determination disappeared along with the Halloween candy. The boil of excitement generated bymy plane ticket to the women's march in DC has faded to a low simmer, and donating small sums of money and signing online petitions feels inadequate.

But when I read the following quote in the current (November 2016) issue of The Sun, link it cheered me immensely. From the final page, aptly titled Sunbeams:

"You survived by seizing every tiny drop of love you could find anywhere and milking it, relishing it for all it was worth. . .  And as you grew up, you sought love anywhere you could find it, whether it was a teacher or a coach or a friend or a friend's parents . . . They are what sustained you. For all these years, you've lived under the illusion that, somehow, you made it because you were tough enough to overpower the abuse, the hatred, the hard knocks of life. But really you made it because love is so powerful that tiny little doses of it are enough to overcome the pain of the worst things life can dish out."
- Rachel Reiland

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the tiny little doses of love that I give and get on a daily basis. And for the hope that they are enough.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cracking Eggs

"I brought an egg and offered this: a chick knows when it's time to peck through the shell because a toxic gas is released chemically inside the shell. This is so noxious it causes restless activity and a crackling release! This biologic can be applied to our lives and collective events. Have we cracked through, enlarged in the life we find ourselves inhabiting now?" - Dominie Cappadonna, Ph.D., CT,

Swastikas spray-painted on driveways, Confederate flags flying again, people living in fear of deportation - noxious fumes. Regardless of political party or political vote, we should all be able to agree that acts of hate and prejudice have no place in our society. The social progress of the past eight years has apparently generated upwellings of these toxic emotions, which were suppressed during the years we were all behaving more circumspectly.

But if those gases existed all along, if the acts were just more disguised or unobtrusive, then we have not created a monster so much as released one. And you have to see the monster to kill it, just as the chick has to break the egg's shell to escape. So now that the intolerance made visible, the discomfort and dislike have emerged, let's surround it with acceptance, with a passion for justice. Let's break out of our walled cells and run around in freedom, seeking the joy of release for everyone under the sun.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Bell Tolls

"No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind, and therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."
- John Donne, Meditation XVII

"Any man's death diminishes me." Just as any act of violence, of intolerance, of hatred by one of our fellows diminishes us.

Two days ago, an immigrant family in a Denver suburb woke to spray-painted swastikas on their driveway. Can you imagine their terror and uncertainty? What comes after the vandalism?

We either support such actions by remaining silent, by turning aside to the details of our own lives, not affected (yet) by the change of our elected officials, or we protest. If we do not protest, we are complicit in acts of hatred and violence.
It's difficult to resist the seduction of complicity, the desire to return to normal. But we must.
So we march. We send notes of support, petitions against racist appointments, against the loss of our liveable earth. We donate to organizations with good lawyers, we hold painful discussions..

We are not griping, we are not whining. Don't ask for whom we march - we march for you.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Moving Forward

Setting aside my passionate alter ego, Politica, for a moment  . . . .

The first openly gay, female bishop in the United Methodist Church, Karen Oliveto, spoke at our 9:00 service yesterday. An inspiring gift of a speaker after a bitter and devastating election. (check out Bishop Oliveto's faith journey here.) 

The bishop reminded us that humans have a blind spot when it comes to seeing the pain of others. Either we're so distracted by our own travails and worries that we forget to look closely, or we're afraid that carrying the weight of another person's sorrows will sink us.

Bishop Oliveto received calls from people of color, women, children, and members of the LGBTQ community after the election. They were suffering. She reminded us to reach out to them, and to all of our neighbors, really seeing their pain and offering our help.

The bishop also reminded us to see the pain of people who voted for Donald Trump, people living in economic uncertainty, people who have been left behind by the digital society, rising costs of college, shuttering of manufacturing and mines.

So I am trying to see that pain, imagine what it feels like to live in the Rust Belt amid broken-down buildings, rows of unused factories with gaping windows. Or near a mining town which has shut down its main source of income.  Trump promised to bring manufacturing jobs  back, promised to revive fossil fuels, in part to galvanize this portion of the electorate that has been left behind.

In my passion for moving forward, for solar panels and Tesla waiting lists, I had forgotten about the people left behind.  I believe that Trump's promises are false, that it won't be possible to turn back time, but I want to see the pain of people who cannot find work or feed their families.

We need a coalition that saves the planet and the people who worked on fossil fuels, an environmental group that provides energy solutions and the choice of a way forward for people who have been uprooted. An economy that employs robots on assembly lines and in long-range trucks but also trains factory workers and truck drivers on new skills, or lets them go to college or information tech schools. We need to think bigger and include everyone.

Time for coffee and the paper now - Politica will return soon.

Friday, November 11, 2016


verb  gal·va·nize \ˈgal-və-ˌnīz\

: to cause (people) to become so excited or concerned about an issue, idea, etc., that they want to do something about it: to cause (a force that is capable of causing change) to become activeMerriam Webster
I'm tired of crying at unexpected times, picking at my food, and feeling generally like a black cloud has descended on the world. Also, sleeping would be good.
I felt happy for a few minutes yesterday while donating money to protect the earth, civil rights, and at-risk populations. Also happy - petitioning the electoral college to vote for the nation's popular vote winner - Hillary Clinton (Electoral College.) [ If Trump won the popular vote and lost the electoral college, would he go down without a fight? I think not.] Huffington Post had a sweet item about safety pins, so I put one on my shirt to show my intention to be a "safe" person, open water amidst the sharks. (Safety Pins)
Then I read about Trump's first items of business: abandoning the Paris Climate treaty, establishing anti-LGBTQ measures, cutting funding to sanctuary cities. And I thought f*!$ this sh@#.
I've been a good girl all my life - with a few notable exceptions. I blog about autumn leaves, family vacations, poetry seminars. No more. I'm done. 
To those columnists pleading for civility, compassion and kindness: I will be open-minded with Trump supporters, empathetic, willing to listen, and kind. Mr. Trump will have to earn my civility and my respect.  If he acts on those horrid promises I will be bad-ass. I am galvanized. 
If he screws with my children's planet, deports my friend, takes away my rights? I'm not gonna be polite. If he grabs a woman by the crotch and laughs? I'm headed to Washington. I dare him to call me a "nasty woman."  I'll put it on my urn. It will be my highest accolade. 
I'm done crying.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-Election Slump

Post-election day in America. Wake to red-rimmed eyes and nausea, flurries of confused and despairing text messages from friends and family. Trump slump.

Fumble for the right words to reassure the children, explain America’s choice of a bully, a tyrant, a braggart, a bigot.  Canada’s immigration website crashes, stock futures are lower. Read Paul Krugman in the New York Times , watch Van Jones on CNN, rationalize pending depression.

Fake my way through breakfast and school prep, visit the drugstore, the pot dispensary, the coffee shop. Youngsters at the dispensary bop to reggae, encourage optimism, intone cheerfully that we have until next year, anyway.

Barista at the coffee shop sees my face and sighs, “Yeah, I know.  At least I’m a straight white male…. But I’m gonna be there for my friends who aren’t.  We’re gonna stand up and fight together.”
And I stop. We’re in like Flynn, even with the megalomaniac, so we have no time for depression, no luxury of lassitude. There are immigrants, Muslims, people of color, women and children who have reason to fear. They need us. The earth’s climate in flux, balanced on the knife edge, it needs us. The country, democratic values at stake, it needs us.

Take a day for despair if you need one. Find the chemicals to dull the shock. Turn off the internet for twenty-four hours . .  . and then come back. We need you.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Sleep Injuries and DST-lag

It's odd how previously accepted and safe activities become dangerous with age. Take sleeping, for example. I can go to sleep after reading a few pages, blissfully tired and lacking any particular aches or pains. Seven hours later, the alarm goes off and - surprise! - I can't get out of bed due to crippling back or neck pain.  A friend and I were laughing about these 'sleep injuries' at a swim meet, where the young people sat on concrete with horrible posture, swam miles of races, and reappeared the next day without limp or crick.

I also find sitting to be precarious, especially in a car or on a couch. Watch out for those dangerous obstacles, my friends. The couch, in particular, appears innocuous but deals a mighty punch for those who lounge too long in its cushions. Our road trip dealt me a smack down by way of upper back tension, a combination of high-boredom driving and poor posture.

The chiropractor is calling my name today, or at least it will be as soon as I get over the jet lag from Daylight Savings Time. Though I welcomed the extra hour of sleep, it will take me several days to adjust. I'm like our cat, Rex, who haunted his food bowl ninety minutes early at all three meals, confused about the new schedule. Don't change the time, and don't make me sit on soft seats. No road trips for a week or two, so perhaps I'll escape injury, at least until preparing lunches today when the butter knife takes a chunk out of my thumb.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

And the Aftermath

My to-do list exploded as soon as we pulled into the driveway on Saturday night. Rob cleared out the car and car carrier while I unpacked, assembled laundry baskets, emptied the cooler and re-stocked the pantry. The fridge was barren, the cat food ran out (fortunate kitties were re-supplied by our neighbors), and the trees conspired to drop every last leaf while we were gone.

We survived the re-entry process to work and school, only to  be rudely interrupted by Halloween festivities. Today I dealt with the aftermath of trick-or-treating, which required a massive donation of leftover candy to the orthodontist and teaching swimming lessons to high-as-kites or down-in-the-dumps kiddos. My prayers and sympathies are with educators all around the country dealing with kids on sugar. And did you know that sugar is only one carbon molecule removed from heroin?  Easy to see after last night's candy binge.

As I drove home from work I reflected on the fading fall, the turning from Halloween to Thanksgiving and beyond. Leaves are mostly on the ground or in the landfill now, and the colors have bleached from all remaining foliage. Though temperatures are warm, the stark naked limbs of our deciduous trees point to the change in season. Autumn is the aftermath of a bountiful summer, a time of honoring growth and respecting loss. I was fortunate enough to experience a nascent fall in New England, a glorious full flowering in Colorado, and the start of a descent to winter in spiritual Yosemite Valley. I'm now ready for a short death myself - by way of a nap - and possibly the need for a vacation from my vacations.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Road Trippin'

It's Fall Break for our kids and we're launched on our annual road trip. As Rob and William watched “This is Spinal Tap” on synchronized laptops, Aden and I got slap-happy driving through desolate Nevada landscapes. We skirted Area 51 and Death Valley, deserted areas with nary a cow nor human in sight. The high point of our journey was the large blue – lettered sign noting “Litter Barrel – 1,000 feet.”  

When we stopped to change drivers in Tonopah, Nevada, we were besieged by friendly people who were no doubt desperate to see a new face. “Come to my family’s restaurant – it’s just down the road apiece” said a man with two mohawked boys in tow. We looked where he beckoned – back the way we had come – and wrinkled our brows trying to remember if we had passed any building that looked remotely like a restaurant.

We were all a bit freaked out by the Clown Motel, semi-shuttered and painted clown faces fading into evil semi-grimaces, and the two abandoned motels on the other side of the road. These abandoned buildings gave Tonopah an eerie tint, and Rob sped up as we eagerly looked toward the west end of town. The friendly policeman who pulled us over merely gave us a warning; he understood the impulse to get the hell out of Dodge.

At Yosemite’s western edge in early afternoon, we gave thanks for tall trees, granite mountains, and crowds of people. Rob and I indulged in “do you remembers” and we laughed at the kids’ pronunciation of Hetch-Hetchy, Tuolomne Meadows, and Wawona. The drive on Tioga Road into Yosemite Valley was suitably awesome, as recent rains had filled the rivers and allowed waterfalls to flow in all their beauty. 

 Rock climbers on the face of El Capitan amazed the kids, who craned their necks and pointed shaky fingers at the ant-like figures on the fearsome face. Heading back to the car, we ran into a group of young people from Colorado, in Yosemite for the first time. When I mentioned that Rob and I used to hike here, they asked for recommendations. I promoted the Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point hikes, noting that I trekked the last one in winter. The twenty-something young man who blurted “You’re a badass!!” made my week, especially since the kids were watching.

As we walked away, I demurely told the kids, "that was a long time ago," and Aden said wisely, "Once you've attained bad-assery, it stays with you forever." So true. It's good to be on a road-trip :-).

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Toilet - Cell Etiquette

Cell phone use in bathrooms occurs all the time. In the privacy of our home, the boys disappear in the bathroom to play video games under the guise of a lengthy number two. I have been known to delete spam email from the comfort of the porcelain throne, and have talked to family members (only family members, I swear! ) while in that intimate setting.  Cell phones have replaced baskets of cheesy, newsy magazines as reading material of choice in bathrooms around the country.

I'm still disconcerted, however, by people conversing on cells in public restrooms. Don't the people on the other end of the line hear the multiple flushes? I was recently horrified when the woman in the stall next to me paused in her conversation, said "Just a moment," and made her conversation partner wait while she flushed and self-adjusted. She resumed the conversation while alternately washing on3 hand and then the other. I should be grateful she washed her hands, but still question the sterility of the cell phone.

Cell phones are so ubiquitous that middle and high school students show increased heart rates when made to leave phones in their lockers. Adults who returned their Samsung Galaxy Note7 phones report issues of detachment and isolation. As a semi-technophobe and relative dinosaur who didn't get an iPhone until last year, I admit to succumbing to cell phone domination. Any spare moment can be used for Words with Friends, deleting spam email, sending emojis to Mom, or just checking weather, heart rate, number of steps taken, solar power output - you name it, it's on the phone. I can't help but wonder, when will the backlash begin?  I think maybe, just perhaps, we should start it in the bathroom.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Vocab Hubris

Last week my eighth-grader asked me to review his vocab words with him. Of course we have to use the iPhone flashcard app instead of actual paper, so it takes me almost as long to figure out how to quiz the boy as it takes to read through the words.One of his words was "perseverate," which means "continuation of something (as repetition of a word) usually to an exceptional degree or beyond a desired point" (Merriam Webster online). Lightning struck: I finally had to admit that "perseverate" is a real word.

My entire life, I've been convinced that "perseverate" is a poor speller's way of writing or saying "persevere," one of my favorite words. Persevere means "to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult" (Merriam Webster online). I picture myself or my family "persevering" in the face of difficulties and I smile, flex my biceps, and stride off onto the nearest mountain. Who doesn't love that word?

"Perseverate," on the other hand, has a negative connotation. Continuing an effort beyond the desire point reads more like flogging a dead horse than achieving a goal. Over the years, when family members, TV anchorpeople, or even my kids' GT teacher used that word I smiled, chuckled in an inwardly superior fashion, and heroically refrained from correcting the error. 

As I reflect on my grievous history, I realize that  subconscious reasoning underlies my obtuseness. Looking closely at my habits, I find a great deal of perseverating that I would rather call perseverance. Training for a marathon through severe knee pain and alarming weight loss? Perseverating. Running said marathon despite stomach illness? Perseverating. Lysol wiping the kitchen counter until my fingers crack from dryness? Definitely perseverating.

You get the point. I'm astonished by my decades-long refusal to recognize a word that applies to me, and surprised that I finally admitted its existence. Does this indicate maturity? Humility? A willingness to change? Or just a recognition that the suffix "ate" creates an entirely different word.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Back to Boston

My apologies for not posting - I've been re-tracing family history in Boston. Our first day in the city united Aden and me with my brothers, niece and a subset of nephews. We walked the Freedom Trail from the Common to Quincy Market, where the boys breakfasted on blue slushies and the girls split a caramel candy apple with sprinkles.

After a quick descent through the North End and ascending Beacon Hill, the boys raced scooters and the older people strolled down the sunny Esplanade, wiping away the Indian summer sweat. At length, brother Michael and his boys turned back toward the Common and the girls, John and I walked across the Mass Ave Bridge to Cambridge. The girls took in the pillars of MIT and then the leafy splendor of the Harvard Yard, marred as always by renovation and ‘keep off the grass’ signs. I showed them my freshman dorm, where I spent many an early morning sobbing in lengthy showers, hiding my homesickness in a haze of communal steam.

We had frozen yogurt at a quiet table in front of Lehman Hall where tour groups flooded the spaces around us and a young couple spoke French at an adjoining table. The stores and technologies have changed – almost completely – in the twenty- three years since I lived in a Cambridge dorm. The girls declined our invitation to purchase Harvard gear as I told them to seek college admittance elsewhere.

Saturday night reunited us with two of my college roommates and their families at the beach house in Scituate. The ghosts of dinners past entered with Tara’s parents, who made a brief journey from their home down the road to look in on the girls they welcomed and fed on long-weekend Sundays and holidays.The seven-layer dips we finished before the other guests could have a taste, the big dinners that sat heavily on us at swim team weigh-ins the next day, the travails of finding our way out to West Roxbury in the days before cell phones and traveling expertise - all fodder for "do you remembers?" and "I can't believe it" conversations.

Sunday morning’s alarm pierced through the shriek of wind and rain, a remnant of Hurricane Matthew that dampened the day of my niece, Mae's, baptism. The weather demanded coarse blue raincoats over the carefully packed and ironed church dresses. At the back of the church, we watched bemused as cousins drew pictures, arm-wrestled and pew-hopped through the service. Little Tommy ate his grandmother’s necklace and the priest enthusiastically led his flock in their praise of the “Lawd.”

As the full congregation filed out, we gathered around the baptismal font. Karen called my parents to Skype them through the service as the Julia and Aden snapped photos. John and I flanked Mike, Pam and the baby as her godparents. All of the 23 cousins filed through to mark Mae with the sign of the cross or a gentle kiss, which benedictions she received in squirming impatience. When Father Chris decorated Mae with cold holy water she “screamed all the demons out.”

Inconvenient emotions settled like clouds of gnats that we hastily waved away, longing to center ourselves in the moment of joy but unable to squelch the sorrow of absence and the recognition that this would be the last Boston baptism. Wild, specific tangents unsettled us: my four-year-old nephew watching the mouth of the priest as he pressed his hands together and sought anxiously to pray the Our Father correctly. My parents on Skype, sobbing quietly from a distance of 3,000 miles. 

We’re often with people we love, but rarely with all the people that we love. Each time we share a meal and memory, laughter and like-mindedness, it’s a sharp prick of miracle, which leaves the faint ache of loss as it fades. The seasons pass, we seem to shed our past selves with the rain or the wind or the tidal flux, and yet they collect inside us and refuse to flee.  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Reclaiming Peace

It's windy today and the yellowing trees toss and wave like Broncos fans bemoaning an interception. Our internal affairs mirror the outside drama: my oldest got up at 4:30am to swim, wailing of a sleepless night; my middle child's bus was twenty minutes late, resulting in anxious text messages with frowning emojis; and our youngest staggered out of bed complaining of an upset stomach.

It's strange how a series of events can erode even a deep sense of peace. I swam in the outdoor pool from 5 - 6am while Aden's team took up the indoor space. The dark skies were unbroken by moon or stars, the pool only lit by random floodlights. No radio interrupted the stillness, and only two other swimmers parted the waters. Occasionally a maple leaf darted and danced into the pool - or my shoulder - on its way to winter sleep. As I paddled and kicked through three 800's, I meditated on the teens inside, the torn fibers of my bicep tendon, the small tear in the rotator cuff. There was no pain, only a detailed recognition.

After I dropped my daughter at high school I had to merge onto southbound I 25, where the traffic tore at my sense of peace within minutes. That was followed by a series of unpleasant emails which required even more distasteful phone calls to the bank and insurance companies, and the shards of peace broke and fell onto the unclean kitchen floor. After a morning full of errands and phone calls, I am only beginning to breathe again, trying to recall through my writing that sense of peace I felt so early this morning. It's still there, underlying everything. I'll do my best to find it, iron it out, and wrap myself inside.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Mumford, take 3

We took our two oldest kids to a Mumford & Sons concert on Wednesday. My third and their first.  I possessed a number of reasons for taking them out on a school night, the most important being that a Mumford & Sons concert is a transcendental, semi-religious experience. On the practical side, we had the two extra tickets (and Daniel at camping, so not missing out), and the concert venue is five minutes from our house.

Back to the transcendental portion of my reasoning. Music, singing, stomping and arm-waving that pass for dancing, they all spring from an ancient segment of our DNA. We stood with a large group of friends from our neighborhood, and the kids' eyebrows rose past their hairlines when all of the adults began jumping around like grasshoppers on pogo sticks, singing off-key at high volume. The fifteen-year old appeared only slightly embarrassed, and she liberated her own feet, arms and voice as the evening wore on.  The thirteen-year-old was quietly stunned, and at times wanted to just lie down and nap until the craziness passed. (He eventually shuffled his feet, clapping and shouting for the encore performance of "I Will Wait.")

I whisper-shouted into my daughter's ear that no one cared to criticize, that riding the wave of musical and tribal energy was free-ing and energizing. She loved the performance, but her favorite part of the evening was the miraculous, cell-phone enabled neighborhood reunion at the heart of an 18,000-seat venue. Being on the lawn, watching the sunset, nibbling contraband chocolate while the other adults drank beer, observing the awe in both children's eyes when thousands of cellphones lit the sky during "I Believe" - transcendental at the very least. The night was magic and well-worth the sleep deprivation and croaky voices that resulted from our mid-week evening out.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mourning my Collagen

I looked down recently and saw that someone had replaced the skin on my legs with elephant hide. Yes, indeed, as I dutifully climbed the outside stairs at a nearby park, congratulating myself on strong quads and hamstrings, I happened to glance down and - wham! - buzz-kill; there were dimples and wrinkles where my smooth skin used to be.

I've come to terms with the deepening wrinkles around my eyes and on my neck by never looking in the mirror, but it just isn't fair to see the skin on my legs detach from its foundation and go sliding off in whatever direction it pleases.  Like an old flame, my collagen has left the building, and I never knew how much I cared until it was gone.

After doing some research, I'm even more irate. Women's eggs have a pre-programmed end date, and our estrogen production declines as the eggs lose their bounce. With the loss of estrogen comes - you got it - the sharp drop in collagen, that magic stuff beneath our skin that keeps it smooth and glowing. The worst part is that men don't have an expiration date on their sperm, so even though testosterone decreases somewhat over time, it doesn't have such a pronounced affect on their wrinkles.

So my husband, eighteen months younger than I, will look progressively more young by comparison?  That is so unfair. The babies came out of my body, and the task of cleaning the cat litter box falls to me - shouldn't I catch a break on the collagen?

And if matter and energy are conserved in this universe - nothing new created and nothing old lost - who gets my supply of collagen? Perhaps a new baby snagged it, or my glowing teenage daughter caught it by osmosis. If anyone sees my old collagen, tell it I miss it and wish it would come back!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Outlander and Antibiotics

To follow: a sad commentary on the state of basic medicine as well as the state of my bedtime reading. Taking the latter problem first, I confess to purchasing (and devouring) the first four books of the Outlander series. I had steadfastly resisted picking up the books in the past, for mysterious reasons related to stubborn pride and lack of time, but Rob got me started on the TV series and from there my capitulation was complete.

I find the series to be diverting and non-anxiety producing. Author Diana Gabaldon makes me laugh, invites me to ponder the advances of the twenty-first century, and never creates nightmares (just the lurid fantasy or two). I'm astounded by the characters and predicaments that Gabaldon conjures. Currently, the main female character, Claire, attempts to reproduce penicillin in her rural frame house by using beef broth and stale bread as petri dishes for mold.

What Claire, a 21st-century doctor, knows about living in the boonies in 1770 is that antibiotics are magic. Without penicillin and its kin, infection can kill an individual after a minor injury or bacterial illness. Though I admire Claire's gumption in recreating Alexander Fleming's 1929 experiment, I'm truly thankful that antibiotics already exist in our time. We now have a new problem, which is the overuse of these magical meds.

When I was in my teens, I took an oral antibiotic for acne. This went on for years, and my family thought nothing of it. It worked, my dad was on a similar med for a similar reason, and scientists either didn't know about the dangers of evolving, drug-resistant bacteria, or they just weren't telling.  Fast forward three decades: I can't take antibiotics any longer without producing a head-to-toe yeast infection (including thrush, stomach, intestinal, etc.) which then requires strong and prolonged doses of anti-fungal meds.

I'm the teensiest bit irritated about this predicament, especially when I see Facebook videos on the amazing ability of bacteria to adapt and resist ever-stronger doses of antibiotics. But what really steams my pores is the continued use of antibiotics to fight acne. I went to the dermatologist on Monday with one of the kids, to ask what might be done to alleviate teenage acne. We explained the dietary changes made, the extremely careful cleansing and moisturizing rituals, the washing of pillowcases and special face cloths.  Upon conclusion of our litany, doctor said, "well, you're a candidate for oral antibiotics."  

WTF?  Thirty years later, that's all we have?  I explained that people aren't even supposed to eat chicken that was raised on antibiotics, let alone take it daily for years upon years, and the doctor shrugged. On the way home, as I ranted (calmly - I was in rush-hour traffic), my child noted, "why would they change? they're still making money on the same old stuff."  We've come so far, but - somewhere along the way - we threw common sense out with the moldy bread.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Calling is Cold

I've put off a home improvement project for over a month because I hate cold-calling. Sure, I told myself it was because I was 'busy' or that I was waiting for a call back from the one and only person that I did call (in August), but really it was fear. Fear of the phone. Phone-phobia. True story - the worst year of my life was the year I worked for a PR firm in San Francisco. Not the firm's fault, just the fact that PR people live on the phone. I came home every night and cried.

So what else do I put off for dread of the phone? Doctor's appointments, catching up with friends, siblings and friends of siblings - basically, if a task must be done on the phone, I've procrastinated on getting the job done.  The advent of texting, Evite, online calendars and patient portals vastly improved my life. Even Rob and I communicate mainly via email and Google calendar (at least during the day).

Why does a disembodied voice make my blood run cold? Well, it's hereditary. My parents are loathe to call any of us because "we might be busy," which I understand to mean, "you might answer the phone and not want to talk to us."  I get it, NOT because it's at all true (in the case of talking to my parents, anyway), but because that's how I feel when calling the plumber, electrician, tree service, etc. God forbid that they might want to take my money - that would require our spending time on the phone negotiating dates and times and job parameters.

So the '80's track lighting in the family room will undoubtedly linger into the 2020's, certain appointments (mammogram, anyone?) have been on the list for several years, and I really owe several brothers a phone call, but I thought it better to write this blog instead. The phone sits next to the computer, glaring at me, but - at least for now - it can't call anyone by itself. Ha!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mad as a Hatter

The Drama club at our elementary school used to be called MADD Hatters. I think it's just "Drama Club" now, but my son still calls it by the old name. As I redid the week's calendar to include "MADD Hatters" meeting, I reflected briefly on just how applicable the title is not only to drama club but the 21st - century whirlwind that is our life.

**Disclaimer: any hint of complaint to follow qualifies merely as a champagne problem.  Not to be confused with real issues of chronic illness, or trying to get to school through an obstacle course of Mafia hit men.**

My first-world issue: I don't have time to THINK.  In my Reader's Digest, which I skimmed briefly while searching the backyard for our runaway cat, I read that the habits of geniuses include keeping a partner or mate to manage distractions for them. Geniuses keep a rigid schedule, protect their productive mental time from the slings and arrows of gossip, current events, or household necessities, and employ the significant other to arrange calendars, meals, clothing, and children.

No wonder I can't even write a blog post!  I am that significant other - not the genius but the manager for a whole house of budding genii. I can drive to baseball, answer an algebra II question, cook dinner, and re-make the bed, but there are no brilliant thoughts emerging from the mental fog in my head - only crickets, getting louder as late summer progresses to fall.

I'd feel more resigned to my mental state if parts of my body were not also making a last curtain call: the eyes need new glasses (bifocals - already?!), the left rotator cuff is on a tear (literally), the face is breaking out (thirty years after puberty, people), and the grey hairs proliferate.

But I do have all of my teeth, and there are no Mafia or otherwise armed men blocking my kid's path to school. Despite my lack of brilliance I still plan to get my Masters in December, and my family loves me despite my being as mad as a hatter (the play this year is ironically "Alice in Wonderland". They should take the old name back.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Leave it!

I'm mind-boggled this morning, frustrated by my master's thesis and how to strike the right note of personal and professional. The phrase that leaps to mind when I'm stymied? Not a literary exhortation, but the favorite phrase of my dog-walking friend, "Leave it!"  This admonition works for dogs who stray off the path, who sniff too far afield, and also to my hamster-on-a-wheel brain, when I can't seem to let go of an issue. It's truly an all-purpose stricture.

In our house, "Leave it" can apply to cats or kids equally. They act much the same, lying in wait to torture the unsuspecting other, butts wiggling in delight (that only applies to cats), then pouncing hard to elicit snarls and hisses from the target.  Jack** was particularly guilty of this yesterday, when poor Rex had just had a bath and was angry at the world, slinking around and shaking his wet legs in irritation.  Aden and I warned Jack to stay away, that Rex  was aggrieved and ready to snap, but Jack fixated all the more on his rival, earning boxed ears and scratches for his pains.

That happens with the kids, too. When William was ticked off at the world two days ago because he couldn't manage a standing back flip, I warned Daniel to stay away. Did he listen? Absolutely not - Daniel made a beeline for his aggravated sibling and I had to break them up before the verbal slings and arrows turned to blows.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't novels say things like, "He knew well enough to stay away when his brother was angry, wary of the fists and fury." I feel like I've read such statements many times before, but rarely seen such avoidance in real life.  I've rarely read the words "Leave it!" either, but that has become my most useful tool, likely to appear anywhere from blog entries to masters' theses.

**Jack is a somewhat foolish feline, recently earning the nickname 'Ryan Lochte of cats.'

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Nothing good after midnight

The news reports about four US swimmers being held up at gunpoint in Rio shocked us at first, and now have morphed into a huge bummer and object lesson for my kids. As my dad used to say, nothing good happens after midnight.  After Rio officials' first embarrassed and genial response, inconsistencies in the swimmers' stories led them to remove two young men from their plane flight home to the US and keep them for further questioning. The loudest voice and brightest profile in the situation belongs to Ryan Lochte, who eluded further questioning by flying home ahead of his friends. The fourth young man is at large in Rio, perhaps wishing that he never went drinking and dancing with Lochte and company.

I don't know what occurred, don't know if the inconsistencies in the swimmers' accounts occurred because of natural variances due to post-traumatic stress or if they somehow elaborated and exaggerated the true events to cover up their own questionable antics. I do know that it's rarely productive to drink until 4 or 5 am, whether you are representing your country at an international event or just pursuing an all-nighter at home. At the age of 32, you would think that Lochte, at least, would realize such a thing.

Every time I hear the story on TV or see it in the newspaper, my father's words echo in my head. Perhaps it's his fault that my college nickname was "Cinderella" because I always went home - well, at midnight. (It made for short nights when parties started at 11:00),

Parents always hope that kids internalize their warnings and hard-won wisdom. For example, trueisms offered while driving tend to linger.  We now have a teen driver in our midst, which is alarming on many fronts. When Aden drove to her art class yesterday she did well, with the notable exception of breezing right past the stop sign in front of our house. When I yelled, "honey, honey - you have to stop!!" she did, at least find the brake, and we came to a halt in the middle of the busy intersection.  My dad reminds me that I did the same at her age. 

So we let kids go, try to pass on what knowledge we have, cross our fingers and pray. Perhaps someday our internalized voices will prevent them from making a misstep, and get them home safe to their beds. And at other times, they'll stay out late drinking, and pay the consequences for their follies. We can be thankful that the drinking and the driving didn't happen on the same night in Rio.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Olympic Gleanings

We kicked off the Olympics by watching an intersquad scrimmage of the UCLA water polo team. That the game took place at the US Olympic Training Center gave it special resonance and luster, which it scarcely needed due to the high level of play and obvious tremendous conditioning of the athletes. The coach spoke to Colorado Water Polo athletes and parents after the game, encouraging the young players to decide on their goals and work hard to pursue them. He said that the UCLA players and the Olympians had all started as youngsters with dreams, just like our kids.

Though the speech was inspiring and motivating, I could not help but think that the Olympians are NOT just like us our or children - they are genetic freaks of the best kind. No normal human can swim as fast as Michael Phelps or Ryan Murphy, or Katie Ledecky. The commentators put their wins down to hard work, a feel for the water, good coaching, technique; all of those factors certainly contribute, but there is a genetic component that can't be overlooked. Many of the athletes have relatives in MLB, or the NFL, or previous Olympics. Not all, certainly, but consistently enough that I know it's a factor.

Even if our kids win the genetic lottery (which in my case is most unlikely!), the sacrifices made to get to the Olympic level are monumental. Gymnasts who forego school, social lives, growth, even puberty, and others who withstand shoulder surgeries, cortisone shots, long periods of pain - they pay a price for their excellence.  And, too, they are not immune from struggle and disappointment, falls from grace that are extra long because their former heights were stratospheric.

Missy Franklin comes to mind when I think of loss. From America's sweetheart to a mere footnote in these games, she's a class act all the way, even while finally giving way to tears in the pool after her best event - where she did not final. She's created no drama, supported all of her teammates to the best of her ability, and quietly tried to mask her pain in smiles of goodwill. As much as we admired here in 2012 for her swimming prowess and joie de vivre, we now admire her for her grace in difficult times.

So when Aden watched yet another medalist go to kiss his mother in the stands, remarking "Sorry, Mom, but I'll never be in the Olympics," I can only respond that my genes aren't sufficient, and we both might be a little grateful. Acknowledging that the heights aren't accessible for mere mortals, we can return to watching with greater appreciation and admiration.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Schedule Collapse

As white-hot July melts down to hazy August, my carefully constructed summer schedule completely gives way. Gone are the mornings of swim practice, afternoons of baseball and swim team activities. Fading, too, are the summer rules of "no screens until 4pm" and "15 minutes of math every day." School starts for our kids in eight days, so our waking hours have devolved into a free-for-all of school errands, required reading (for the big kids) and last-ditch summer camps for which I alternately curse and bless my ambitious March self.

Aden has driver's ed classes all week, which still shocks me when I write it. My baby is going to drive a car? And share the road with crazies?  I'm not sure how it came to pass that her fifteenth birthday comes in a week and her learner's permit with it.  I don't know which bothers me more, that she's going to drive or that I have to clean up my act when I drive with her so I don't teach her the wrong stuff - i.e. the "California roll" or checking my email at long lights.

Way back in the spring when I ambitiously planned activities for all of the kids I signed William up for a writer's camp this week so that both the older kids would be busy and I could have some free time with Daniel. I neglected to account for the fact that writing camp is at Bookbar in the Highlands, a half-hour drive from our house (without traffic). Loathing the freeway, I decided to spend most of our time downtown within ten minutes of camp. Daniel and I have hit the Colorado History Museum (free for Colorado Day!) and the Children's Museum, as well as scouted out coffee shops and boutiques all along the hip street where Bookbar resides.

Daniel's having  a wonderful time and William doesn't complain too much because he gets to capture all of the Pokemons that live downtown. Today I've called "uncle" on museums and decided to spend time in an air-conditioned movie theater watching "The Secret Life of Pets."  Have to get in one more movie before school starts and we forget there's a world outside of our subdivision. Cheers to the last eight days .....

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On Top of the World

Another action-packed weekend left its mark on our memories and energy stores.  Friday morning saw us rise and breakfast at 3:30 am and then speed up I-70 to the Fiddlers Gulch trailhead at Greys Peak.  Starting our high-elevation hike at 5:15 allowed us to see a glorious sunrise over the valley and the rounded dome of our goal in front of us. All was well until about two hours in (on a 7+ hour journey), when Daniel decided that hiking high mountains didn't suit him.  I applied my brand of encouragement, which failed miserably and was rejected by both child and father, so Rob took over the care of Daniel while I trailed our older two mountain goats.

By some miracle of patience and perseverance Rob was able to shepherd Daniel up both Greys and Torreys - two peaks over 14,000 feet high with a saddle between them. Another miracle that I was able to follow William and Aden up Torreys without experiencing a heart attack or a precipitous fall. The scenery was a gorgeous, God-given blessing of still snow-capped peaks, mountain lakes, green slopes and far-reaching vistas. I told the big kids that I get a "Rocky Mountain high" from being up in those mountains, which caused William's brow to furrow as he sniffed me for marijuana fumes.

No semi-illegal substances on that trip, only trail mix and lots of water, but Rob and I got a noseful of Mary Jane at our concert on Sunday night. We went to Fiddlers Green for the first time - a beautiful open-air concert venue that lives only five minutes from our home. For some reason we've never been to a concert there in all of our twelve years as residents; we won't miss out on the opportunity again. Sitting on the high, grassy slopes of the General Admission section we could see layers upon layers of blue-grey mountains behind the stage, and a setting sun dropped below the building just as Panic! at the Disco played "Hallelujah."  It was a stunning end to a busy weekend, glorying in the mountains and open air.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Ramblin' On

I'm writing in the kitchen this morning, grateful that our house fan dropped the indoor temperature from 80 degrees to 72.  Another scorcher simmers outside and I'm carefully calculating how long I should leave windows open before trapping the cooler air and crossing my fingers that it lasts until lunch. It's a summer routine that never fails to challenge; if life is in the details then for me, in summer, it's all about keeping the house cool.

Another week begins, with Daniel at Nature Camp with friends each morning and doctors' visits filling the calendar each afternoon. Aden and William are home after traveling last week for a mission trip and a water polo camp, respectively. Aden arrived at church last night around 5pm, after their caravan got stuck in weekend traffic in the mountains. The church bus had broken down and so the 16 people were crammed into minivan rentals.  She had a good trip working hard at a warehouse/thrift store and food pantry, but was glad to be in her own bed last night.

I retrieved William in Los Angeles last Thursday, and spent a blissful solo night courtesy of Karen at her chalet in San Pedro. Then a day at Pepperdine watching water polo and walking the hills of the campus before taking William and his friend home via Santa Monica beach and LAX. Watching the camp counselors at work, I shook my head in disbelief that my son will one day have the same tremendously broad shoulders and defined musculature as these athletes.

The kids' adventures are such gifts, and we're lucky to have opportunities for their travel and growth in different areas. I'm glad they're still young, and want to come back to us after five days or a week. In a few years we will be on college campuses for Aden, and they will pull away for longer and longer periods.

So I'll hold on to this week of kids at home, opening and shutting windows like a madwoman and sneaking the first season episodes of Outlander whenever I can. Rob got me hooked on the show, and now I can only think that our next travel adventure might be Scotland.  If we go, we'll take the kids, as I'm not eager to plan more time apart .

Thursday, July 7, 2016

July post-Fourth

I just rescued Blackjack from the top of our refrigerator, where he inexplicably jumped to escape the torments of his "big brother" Rex, who has been chasing him around the house at top speed. They skewed our throw rugs, tore a few more holes in the leather couch, spouted a spray of kitty litter across the office, and finally - the refrigerator.  I cannot decide if they're inspiration or interruption.

Our reading instructor says "read and write each day" to which I respond wittily, "Argggh!"  The reading is no problem as I can do that anywhere - in waiting rooms for the ortho, the eye doctor, the pediatrician, the dentist. Three kids times four appointments equals dozens of hours spent in waiting rooms or waiting in the checkup rooms - lots of time to finish books and magazines.

Writing is more of an obstacle for me, hard to accomplish with muzak in the background and siblings clamoring at my knee for promises of "a treat" or a ride somewhere with someone. On the days I don't exercise early I come to my computer with coffee and the hope of some creative spark, which may or may not be generated in the allotted hour.

Aden and William have their final swim meet on Saturday (Daniel is done) and the summer team party that evening. Both kiddos leave Sunday morning, flying out from DIA to a mission trip and water polo camp, respectively. The counter is papered in swimming timelines and to-dos, packing lists and reminder stickies. My stomach flips each time I see flight info that does not include me.

Don't tell the kids, but this last month of summer will zip by at hyper-speed. Our early start date of August 11 means that my inbox is already full of check-in information and school forms. Hope everyone had a good Fourth and best wishes for July!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Devil's Head

Saturday's early morning rain did us a solid by delaying our fellow hikers and providing cloud cover for our hike up Devil's Head. Without a swim meet or baseball game to kick-start an early morning, the kids slept in, ate a big breakfast, and dallied while Rob and I debated attempting a new hike in the wet. Finally, full of bacon, pancakes and optimism, we rallied with multiple water bottles and raincoats.

After an hour's drive - much of it on bumpy, windy dirt roads - we arrived at Devil's Head. An empty overflow lot was a good sign and though the guidebook warned us to be there by 8am, it looked like our 11:11 arrival time would work for the cool and misty day.  William took off, free running off massive grey boulders and large, initialed, aspen trees. Aden followed close behind, while Rob and I struck our usual tenuous balance of keeping the big kids in sight while staying back with Daniel in order to encourage his faltering steps. Daniel is usually too focused on "Are we there yet?" and "Where can we go for lunch?" to enjoy a climb.

We passed trees swizzled on the ground in mad disarray, surprised to read that they had been uprooted and tossed by a tornado last summer.  Casting wary eyes on the grey sky we hustled forward. The trail runs just 1.4 miles and provides startling peeks out over the plains and foothills in all directions. As a training hike for the 14'er we plan for later this summer it wasn't quite strenuous enough, but the wildflowers, aspen and evergreen forests made us forget any other ambition.

The Devil's Head Lookout Station sits on the top of a massive rock formation at trail's end. Bill Ellis, the lookout, scans Pike National Forest daily for fires and allows five hikers at a time into his office. Rob and Daniel went in to meet Bill and get his card; Aden and I snapped selfies while ribbons of grey cloud unspooled behind us. Occasional breaks in the sky revealed windows of blue and glorious panoramas of Colorado's topography.

A fabulous way to spend the first day of the holiday weekend - a reminder that family hiking is worth the preparation and occasional complaint. Happy Fourth to all!

Monday, June 27, 2016

End of June Update

Cotton is a summer precipitate in Colorado, catching sunlight as it lazes through our shade awnings, glowing like super-sized fireflies. The offspring of the cottonwood trees catches in low-slung, grassy cobwebs and forms a soft white trampoline for unlucky insects.  The drift of the seeds, the heat of the afternoons, inform us of summer's arrival.

With the demise of baseball our schedules have opened enough to allow for deep breaths, lazy afternoons of reading, lego-building and planning. We watch through streaked windows as the sun bleaches our back patio, droops the red geraniums in their pots, chases the cats from their favorite indoor hiding places to new, cooler locales in front of the AC vents.

Despite the languor of late June, summer's appearance has an edge. A house full of dirty socks and slightly bored offspring signals a lightning storm of flared tempers. In addition, the rapid pace of our first four weeks means that camps and other travel adventures sit like obstacles in front of me, and I have to maneuver quickly to scramble for babysitters, car rentals, and extra house keys. July 4th hovers, only a week out, like a faintly menacing UFO.

But swim team prelims are here, in conjunction with the swimming Olympic Trials - mercifully televised - and my stack of magazines and library books lies in wait for hours at the pool. Strong and tan, the kids quiver to chase down PR's and carbo-load with friends, and I write to preserve these moments, the best part of the summer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


An ode to our black 7-month-old kitten, Blackjack.


Slinky stinky kitty
Curls around corners,
Bony backside swaying,
Big black ears pricked over
Balding brows.
Scanning for toys, which he
Pursues with loping sideways gallop,
Back end heedless of front,
Five pound cat like a herd of horses.

Kitty scarfs down kibble,
Steals food from older brother in
Frantic inhale of protein and air.
When relaxed, his under-tail
Releases sulfurous farts.
Amid chorus of moans his lifted head
Surveys room with eyes like
Green-gold marbles,
Falls asleep again
Disappears in the dark.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Summer Funnies

A few summer funnies to brighten your day:

"I can't WAIT to color-coordinate my socks to the days of the week!"
- Daniel on arriving home from Target with new socks and underwear.

"Mom, was Queen Elizabeth after Henry VII?"
- "Yes, she was his daughter."
"Wow! And she's STILL the Queen!"
- "What? No, that's a different Queen Elizabeth...."
- Conversation between Daniel and me after reading the back of Aden's historical novel.

"I can't remember why I walked into this room."
"Maybe if I went out and came back in again."
"Great, now I can't remember why I walked into THIS room!"
- Garfield, by Jim Davis, 6/13/16

And some truly happy news to light up your Thursday; our new niece and cousin, Mae Patricia Clavadetscher, was born on Flag Day! Mom Pam and baby are healthy and headed home. Sending much love their way :-).

Monday, June 6, 2016


Riffing off the idea of summer rhythms, I think it's fair to say that our weekend took things up-tempo. We accelerated into the two-day marathon with the arrival of Bill and Connie, who braved the two long days of driving from Ohio to watch a swim meet and four baseball games. Throw in a bar mitzvah, birthday party, and Sunday brunch and you get the idea.

While William warmed up for his baseball game I took a hike up the bluffs just south of Ridgegate Drive. Not only is the exit new, but the thousands of homes marching up the base of the bluffs shine with fresh spit and polish, as well. Climbing a dirt path several hundred feet up, my sandals freed me from the ballfield for a whole forty-five minutes, while I turned my attention to the bright red-orange of Indian paintbrush and the sweet lilting call of the meadowlark.  The air smelled sweeter, and the grasses were soft with seeded heads. I turned my back on the view of DTC and downtown Denver, and pretended I was in the mountains.

The short hike reminded me of Leath Tonino's interview of Craig Childs in the June issue of The Sun. An extreme hiker, backpacker and outdoorsman, Childs says, "I often go backpacking in the canyonlands of southern Utah. In that place you're constantly touching rock:you're climbing; you're picking up rocks and running your fingers over them. Maybe three weeks into one of my rips I noticed that my fingerprints were gone. I had worn my fingertips smooth from so much contact with abrasive sandstone. It felt liberating. I had no identity." (The Sun, Issue 486, pg,10).  Nature as eraser, liberator, freedom fighter.

We had a wonderful visit with Bill and Connie and look forward to seeing Rob's Aunt Jennifer tomorrow. Looking forward to more hikes amidst the ballgames, more outdoor time with all the family. And, speaking of The Sun, here is the promised link to the Reader's Write page on Swimming. My entry is third down. Cheers!
Swimming - The Sun

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Summer Rhythms

Low-hanging clouds obscure the sun this morning and a fine mist lingers in the air. Our geraniums shake off the raindrops from last night's storm, which conveniently descended after our trip downtown to the Rockies game. Two home runs in the first inning last night, hard-hit meteors which descended gracefully toward our cheap seats in the "Rock Pile." The ballgame was a finale to a standard-setting first weekend of summer: yardwork, barbeques, visits with family and friends, our first swim meet.

Without further ceremony or preparation, summer is here. No lunches to make, homework to check, backpacks to fill; we've swapped them for swim bags,towels, goggles and sunscreen. Our mornings are a shuffle of different practices and routine chores flung out of order, bewildered cats galloping up and down the hallways, in shock at the number of people at home. Heads and pillows smell like chlorine, my favorite perfume, and tans will soon start to show strap marks and goggle lines.

Fittingly, my short piece on Swimming has appeared in the June issue of The Sun, in the Reader's Write section. That's a step up from a letter to the Editor and some lengthy distance short of a short story, but a timely stride in the right direction. I'll post the online link when the June issue goes up on the website; in the meantime, I am enjoying my two extra copies of the magazine and a free year's subscription - my first payment.

Time to do some writing while the big kids are a-bed and the little one works out at the pool. I'm desperate to make writing a part of this crazy summer schedule, and we'll see how things unfold.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Still on Snow Tires, Still May

Went to get the snow tires replaced today and found out that the regular tires were worn down so far as to render them useless, so just rotated the snow tires and kept them on, pushing a purchase of all-weather tires out until October-ish.  An apt metaphor for May: I'm late to a task, then I completely bungle the task, and blunder on with inappropriate tools and knowledge hoping that a future self can cope!

The kids are in their final week of school, Aden is handling exam stress with aplomb, and the boys seem less anxious than usual. Perhaps they all passed their anxiety to me during the night, a kind of perverse osmosis by which mom soaks up all of the nervous vibes in the house?  Is that why I jump out of bed with a sense of bizarre urgency each time 5:30am rolls around, but am ready to collapse by dinner?

I have to quit this brief post to call my parents - long overdue - but I want to sign off by wishing all the teachers out there good luck with end-of-school tasks and requirements. Can't wait to hear the good baby news from the Massachusetts Clavs and still hoping to arrange summer visits with the Chicago clan. Sending good third-trimester vibes to Katie in Dallas and looking forward to Bill and Connie's visit soon, with more baseball games and the start of swim season. Hang on to your hats, we're almost out of May!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Needing Earth Frequency

The lapse between my posts must indicate the madness that consumed our house for the past two weeks. Prepping and plotting for William's thirteenth birthday, starting up summer swim, writing papers and attending class at Regis - all good stuff but time-consuming. Even the cats were crazy, running sprints from one hallway to another, crashing into walls and making spectacular, leaping fails from the couch to the piano that landed them sprawled in the wine rack.

I made a birthday scrapbook for William out of letters and photos from friends and extended family. The idea was borrowed from a dear friend who made a book for her son - now graduating from high school. I loved the idea of giving my kids something to refer to as they enter their teens - words of wisdom and support that tell the kids they are never alone. Aden keeps her book by her bed, and William slept with his last night.

The downside of scrapbooking (aside from my lack of experience and finesse with any artistic endeavor) is that I was forced to stare down the eye of the storm of Time, which has transformed my "football baby" (so-called because he would stop crying in the "football" hold) into a teenager and my friend's children from fifth-grade leaders to high school graduates. The rapid passage of time takes my breath and raises my heart rate, alerts me to the folds of skin under my chin and the white hairs in my eyebrows.

A dear friend heard me out on the subject, and alerted me to the fact that "earth time" is different than "people time," so one technique for maintaining sanity in crazy May is to go outside. "Stare at clouds, watch the sky," she said. "Take a walk on the greenbelt or just lie on the lawn."  The frequency (hertz) of earth is slower than the frequency of a human, and the effect of absorbing this lower beat is akin to meditation (which I've been sleeping through in recent weeks).

So, I'm making time for a walk today, and plotting a day-long escape for the family in which we saunter, sit, and take in the beautiful, slow heartbeat of the outside. A fitting end to a wild month.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Month of May-hem

Baseball, band concerts, Big Serve, book group,
church mission meetings, graduation parties,
homework,  housecleaning, finals prep,
schoolwork, swim practices.

Cats gallop through hallways
Hitting walls, crazing carpets.
Like us, they burn with
Spring fever.

Eight more squares of school
On the calendar, which radiates
red-letter days. Ends and beginnings,
Infant stages and seasons.

May-hem swallows us whole,
Spits us out in first week of June,
Mashed and mangled,
Lying prone in the sun.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Progenitor Art and Literary Journal, Hooray!

Last night I had the honor and privilege of reading from my story, "The Things They Leave Behind" at the Progenitor launch party. The Arapahoe Community College students and their advisers put together a beautiful journal, and I hope Aden and Daniel appreciated all of the hard work and talent that the students demonstrated.

I was happy to have the kids there to watch me read; it was my first 'reading' for an audience other than my classmates or family. The further I get along this writing journey, the more I realize two things: 1. I love it, and 2. I need to work harder.

Reading the really good stuff - fiction, non-fiction, young adult, journalism - makes me realize that I've been not only busy but intellectually lazy in my pursuit of writing.   After exposure to some real talent, I think that I can and must do better. I don't have the genius, but I can get farther with some old-fashioned elbow grease.

Speaking of hard work and talent, here's the link to the Progenitor online:, and here's the link to my story, which is based on several border trips I have taken with friends:!the-things-they-leave-behind/bzuuu. The part about the immigrants revealing themselves to help a group of strangers . . . is true.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Quoting Ani DiFranco

Love this from the May issue of Sun Magazine. Mark Leviton interviewed singer Ani DiFranco - here's the briefest of excerpts:

"We internalize the culture and underestimate our own power. It's easy, for women especially, just to plug along and feel conflicted and incapable and alienated. But once you begin to recognize your own truths, then you can find words to speak them. And once you speak, you find that you are not alone. All it takes is for one person to come out and say, "Me, too," and then bingo! The alienation is gone. But you have to practice tuning out the noise of the culture to hear the messages transmitted from your gut and your heart. You have to become like a bird-watcher and be vigilant and develop the skills to spot and name the quick flash of awareness in yourself. When nobody else seems to have seen what you saw, you have to be able to say with confidence, "That was a scarlet tanager. I know it!"  (p. 9)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thoughts on Detention

I took my head out of my derriere at the end of last week and stopped cycling over my knee and sleep issues long enough to take a look at an art exhibit at Museo de las Americas on Santa Fe. They're hosting an exhibit on immigrant detention done by the artist collective Sin Huellas (without fingerprints). The name, Sin Huellas, refers to a common practice of removing fingerprints through chemical burns, so the individual cannot be tracked or identified. Often, these undocumented persons vanish without a trace.

The exhibit contains videos, letters from detainees to their families, statistics, and visuals of figures in mylar blankets lying on narrow cots. The stories wrench at heartstrings: an inmate fell off his bunk and hit his head, creating an open wound that was not treated for six months. A teenage girl who moved to the US at age two was arrested and threatened with deportation to a country where she didn't know the language or a single soul.

The detention centers are run by a private company - the GEO Group - which makes between $150 and $200 per detainee per night. GEO and other private prison companies lobbied the US Government to institute a 34,000 bed-per-night-minimum, which means they can detain and hold that number of individuals each night without question. Since crossing our border without papers is a civil offense (at least on the first crossing), detainees are not provided with the due process and representation afforded to persons who have committed a crime. It's a heinous thing that we're doing.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Elbowing Out the Pain and Worry

Since I last ruminated over the keyboard the sun has come out and tree branches have rebounded to wave over the piles of pink petals that drift like confetti over still-snowy lawns. The chiropractor used a warm laser to restore 80% of my knee. Daniel has slept in the hallway instead of his room but at least refrained from waking anyone else, and we got a new black kitty who rumbles around William's room like he owns the place. Stirrings of hope and gratitude are elbowing out the pain and worry.

Even prior to the miracle of the chiropractor's laser I had been reviewing my notes on resiliency and mental health: exercise, be grateful, stay positive, stop ruminating over troubles, reach out to friends and family.  In April of 2016 I add to this list: don't watch or read the news of presidential elections, refrain from arguing with the kids, keep away from the pity party.

My good friend says there are two roads through life - the happy road and the sad road - and they don't take turns but run in parallel. So we mourn the loss of Prince but smile at the new Mumford & Sons South African single. We tremble at the news of yet another record-breaking warm month but exult in the proliferation of solar panels, weep over health struggles of good friends but delight in the birth of healthy babies.

Happy Earth Day - may the happy road today be a bit more full than the sad one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pride Goeth Before . . .

Reviewing my last two entries about - first - pride in my body's ability to perform, and second - dismay over the failure of my hip and knee to work together, a familiar phrase comes to mind. It goes somewhat like this: pride goeth before you trip and landeth on your ass.  I still sport a bump like a "third knee" on the left side of my left leg - like a third nipple and just about as welcome. The constant ache has taken its toll on my sleep and my temper and I'm constantly juggling the options of the chiropractor, the PT and the orthopedist. It doesn't help that we have new insurance and I don't know which options are best, i.e. least expensive.

In other ironic news, we turned on our solar panels just before a walloping spring snowstorm dumped eighteen inches of the white stuff on our roof. A representative from Solar City called and left an urgent voicemail asking me to check the inverter and call him to ascertain why the panels were not producing energy. When this was followed by an even more urgent email I broke down and called the guy back to explain that our panels were covered in heavy spring snow. Apparently Californians hadn't heard that was a possibility in April.  The young man paused and said, "Well, yes, that would do it. Why don't you call back when it melts." Indeed.

As I drive carpools and errand routes this week I mourn the loss of tree branches, spring flowers, and landscaping.The resilience of some of the trees and a few hardy tulips should be my focus; the  metaphor of bouncing back and moving on should be at the top of mind. Instead I feel weighted by what was broken and lost - the heavy limbs that will be carted away by city maintenance workers and the hard work remaining to the maimed trees. I am a maimed tree, myself, unsure of what work to do to fix my lagging branch or of when it's going to bounce back.