This Door is Always Open: A Glimpse at Family Gathering

Like animals instinctively returning home after a migration, my family makes its way to my parents' house at two distinct times of year: once in the summer and always at Christmas. We camp out there for as long as our various vacation accruals will allow. No matter how far or near we come from, it's where we reunite, where we celebrate, and where we feel at home.
Regardless of how long the travels leading to arrival are, turning onto my parents' small street is a massive relief marked with some sort of we're-here-cheer. As you pull up to the driveway, look sharp because cars are parked like jigsaw puzzles slid together, and children's bikes, scooters and helmets are tiny pieces complicating the challenge of finding a space.
Surely someone, or some many, will come out to greet your arrival. There will be hugs and smiles; children’s hair will get tousled. The process of unloading the car will commence and then you'll step into the house. It will smell like the meal that is invariably awaiting you and the many seasonally-appropriate candles my mother will have lit. You will almost have forgotten how beautiful it is.
From about then onward, the days and nights will bleed together into nearly-constant activity and happiness.

There will be no shortage of food. The refrigerator in the kitchen and the spare in the garage are so full that bottles of beer and sparkling apple cider, jars of pickles and cans of diet soda that no one drinks all spill out into a semi-circle on the garage floor. Feeding this crowd will be a huge endeavor, three times a day, every day. And even though different chefs will take over the kitchen, the feeding fete is exhausting.
The New Mexicans feed us green chilies on everything and add flaming hot spice to each entree. I keep trying to work in massive amounts of vegetables, as I (subtly) nag everyone about what's healthy and what's not. My vegetarian sister-in-law who is allergic to gluten either gets a thoughtful array prepared for her or is completely lost in the crowd and has to scrounge-up another green salad for dinner. My parents fill in with fare that has become standard to this crowd: always there will be a night of spaghetti and a night of barbecued garlic chicken with Lebanese toubouli. One or two mornings, depending on the duration of our camp-out, there will be buttermilk pancakes poured from the blender. And most likely, one morning we'll arise to a massive box of donuts on the counter, that one or two lucky grandchildren got to go along to help pick-out.
I keep wondering why we don't eat more cereal and sandwiches as the dishwasher and the kitchen trash can fill up over and over again. The flow of dishes is as constant as the flush of toilets or the swish of the washing machine. And by about day four, spouses start to tease each other about ineludible weight-gain.
Outside of the kitchen, it's only slightly less chaotic. The lights are left on in every room. As soon as you shut the bathroom door, someone is knocking on it. (Be sure to look before you sit-down on the toilet because there's a couple little boys with bad aim.) 
In December, it's about as cold as it gets in Southern California, roughly 55 degrees, and there is a host of swirling, dry leaves and wandering lizards and rodents out here in the country, but apparently none of these are compelling reasons for anyone to shut the front door behind themselves because it's constantly left open - to my mother's disdain.
"Shut the front door!" she will shout repeatedly to no one in particular but everyone in general.
Now, when a door is closed, that also means nothing. Children walk through our bedroom as readily as they pass through the hallway.  I step out of the shower into the bedroom to get dressed, and my nephew pops up from behind the bed. I open the car door and my nieces are camped out in the backseat. Children, in case you have failed to gather, are everywhere; although, I have barely seen my own since we first pulled into the driveway. The household wakes up with the first child's pattering down the stairs and only calms to quiet after the last small head rests quietly upon the pillow.
Most of the small heads camp out on the floor of my parents' bedroom, gracing them with constant companionship from their smallest house guests. 
Each morning is a new rotation of meals to be eaten, dishes to be washed, conversations to be had, love to shared. And, the front door to be left open just as my mother is passing by. ("Oh gads, who left the door open again?")
Once the peanut brittle has been passed, the apple cider sipped, and the wrapping paper burned in the wood stove, it's time for us to each head back to our lives that will initially feel solitary. We'll return to our individual homes and our individual family units. We'll "go about our daily activities," as my father says, and carry on with only calls, emails and various visits amongst us. Until, half of another year passes and we all return together again, this time in tank-tops and flip-flops.
There we will all be again, to pull into the crowded driveway and say, "We made it."  There we will be - to reunite, celebrate, and feel at home once again.

Wishing you a joy-filled Christmas with your family!


The (Pee-Soaked) Magic of Christmas

Aww, the magical season of Christmas is upon us.

Is it "magical" though? Really?

Maybe I just don't like that word very much: magical. It implies fairytale perfection, which is just plain far from the truth pretty much always. Now, I appreciate and enjoy the holidays as much as the next gal; I value them; I enjoy them. But I understand that nothing about them will be imperfect. Like life in general, once we embrace the truth of realistic expectations, we're much freer to be content and grateful for what things are.

That being said, last weekend we decided to brave the California-cold and the crowds to take our two small children to a Christmas festival that promised to be magical.

There were live carolers and an orchestra, with the beautiful holiday music piped across the quaint coastal village. There was snow trucked in and wreaths on every lamppost. And, the real clincher, there was a spectacular fireworks show above the lit-up pier. Red, green, gold, and silver fireworks boomed and sizzled above the dark waves, timed carefully with the music. Are you thinking magical yet?

Well, you shouldn't be, because actually, it went something like this:

Parking was so difficult my husband dropped off: me, 2 kids in full winter gear, 4 blankets, 2 water bottles, 1 large purse (when it's bigger than a watermelon, is it still a purse?) full of snacks that will spill into a sticky mess, and 1 dinky stroller, and he drove literally to the next town before he found a parking space. We'll skip the sled run and bouncers because the lines are queued down the street. We'll find a spot to picnic on the sand and enjoy the music and atmosphere. We'll cuddle under fleece blankets and eat sandy popcorn and smashed Junior Mints from the bottom of my watermelon-of-a-purse.

Then, my 2-year old will have her only potty accident of the month and pee right through the two pairs of pants, long socks, and boots she is wearing. We'll improvise to keep her clothed and warm.

Just before the fireworks are scheduled to begin, my husband will have to leave to start the trek to pick up our car before the parking meter runs out. It's back to me, bundled kids, and too much stuff.

The blinking holiday lights lining the pier go out and we see the first firework streak into the black sky. The moment we've been waiting for! My 5 year-old leans into me with a grunt, "I really have to go to the bathroom. I can't hold it anymore!"

Hold it anymore? I asked him if he had to go at the restaurant. And then again when we passed the bathrooms by the pier. And then again 10 minutes ago, before the show started. NOW?

I try to make him wait. I stare at the massive pops of light now filling the dark sky and fizzling into the ocean. I smile at my pee-soaked little girl wrapped in a blanket, as she points, cheers, and drops her tiny jaw in awe at the spectacle.

Meanwhile, my son is grunting, whining, shifting. "Really. Have. To. Go."

And so I pack everything up. I try to maneuver the too-full stroller around people, chairs, and splayed blankets, across the sand. Thankfully, a women next to us gets up and helps me, missing the show herself to grab the front of my stroller and help carry it through the crowded sand, to the sidewalk. That is kindness at it's best! Maybe this is a magical evening after all.

The fireworks are at our back as we rush to the nearest bathroom. While he pees, the show ends.

We march down the sandy sidewalk with the parade of hundreds of other people. Stairs. There are 5 stairs between me and the street I need to get up to. I stop and stare at them as people rush past.

I give it a go and ram the stroller, with my baby and overflowing supplies in it - up the ominous cement, making it to the third step. Just as I'm about to try and Heeman-heave it up the rest of the way in what would have probably been an embarrasing fail, a man from the throngs of passerbyers stops and asks to help me. Yes! I want to hug him.

I take everything back. Admittedly, I'm irrationally angry at my 5-year old for making us miss the show and feeling a bit like I might never leave the house again. And yet, there was some magic - some real holiday goodwill that warmed my heart.

Merry Christmas. Have a magical holiday.


Love Foundation

This Thanksgiving, I had the honor of being selected to share my story at The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation “Week of Thankfulness” blog.

Same story. Retold anew. Because, yes, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Check it out at:



A Life of Giving Thanks

I think a lot of people have a whole lot to be thankful for. Actually, I think absolutely everyone I’ve ever encountered has something – if not a whole lot – to be thankful for.
I like a holiday that encourages us to ruminate on all the good, all that we have to be grateful for. Even more than that, I like a life that strives to do the same.

So, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving. And a life that mirrors it.


Plushie Hatin'

Stuffed animals are lame.

I mean, yes, they are actually unable to walk - the definition of lame. But they're also distasteful little puffs of fabric that collect dust and take up more space than they're worth.

Did I just define myself as a terrible person? Does not like stuffed animals = evil; cold-hearted.

Okay look, I don't hate all stuffed animals, just collections of them.

When I had my son, lots of people gifted him with stuffed creatures - which was fine at first. We kept them on a shelf and stared at them on occasion. He never played with them; I guess he's just not a stuffed-animal sort of kid. (Good boy that he is.) But then he continued to amass them over the years.

People gift them and try to pass them down - by the garbage sack full. No, we really do not want your collection of seven dozen stuffed animals from your childrens' childhoods. Whatever would I do with them?

Get one of these? An ugly avalanche of stuffed animal suffocation straight out of the 80's?

Or these? A strange perpendicular zoo/jail?

Please no.

So, I was all smug and proud of my plushie-hatin for the first couple of years of my son's life. Well, in a mostly polite, quiet kind of way. (Expect to my mom; she got the uncensored version of my, NO, DO NOT give my child another stuffed anything.) And this worked out pretty well for us; we kept our plushie numbers down.

Someone once gave my son, at 4-years old, a teddy bear to which he later said to me, "But Mom, how do I play with it?" ...So, he and I were pretty much on the same page.

Then.... I birthed this little girl. This little child, who as it turns out, cradles, feeds, pets, hugs, cleans, and generally loves on every small living and pretend-living creature that crosses her path. She loves animals. She loves babies. And yes, she is a first-rate plushie-lover.

Dolls and stuffed animals litter - yes litter - her small, shared bedroom. And when she goes to sleep at night, an arsenal of textiled-stuffing blankets her body; she will have it no other way. Dog, Kitty, and Bunny (pink and brown bunny, not the white one, or the pink one, or the brown with white spots one) are her Top 3. They are must in the crib. Whatever else has caught her fancy for the day will join the Top 3 in the cushy zone of privilege that is crux of her little arms.

When they're not lining her sleeping body, she pushes them around in a toy shopping cart or a stroller, stuffs them in her clothes, carries them on walks, sets them on chairs around the table or next to her in the high chair...

It's like they're taunting me. Those glass-eyed little critters sitting up tall everywhere I look, with their complacent little smiles. They won. They fill my home. They are a collective whole that could be termed a collection.

Like absolutely everything else in parenting, my plushie hatin has been ground down into a fat slice of humble pie. Anything I was successful with in the earliest years of parenting my first, my second child came along and beat me over the head with my self-congratulatory confidence. So different; they are so different.

Each child is a wholly unique creature. We should remind ourselves of this before we judge other parents based upon our own experiences.

So, you win, you lame little pieces of fluff; you win.


It Starts With Me

I have mean neighbors. Okay, maybe not outright mean, but definitely inconsiderate and unfriendly neighbors.

Our houses are about six feet apart. I’m not kidding. You could almost reach out the window and touch the side of their house. Sometimes when someone is knocking on their door, I go to ours to answer, or their phone rings and I think it’s mine. Such is our penance for living in an urban, beach city, I guess.
As you can imagine, we hear each other’s business. We affect each other’s peacefulness.

I’m sure they know our kids’ names very well, probably hearing them frequently in our raised tones of admonishment or playful excitement. I’m sure they often hear my screamer of a toddler. And, I loathe to admit, they’ve probably heard my terrible, off-key, off-tune singing from time to time. (I don’t even know what key and tune are, if I’m perfectly honest. I just know I don’t have either correct. Ever. Well...there was this one time my musically-inclined husband actually interrupted my singing to tell me that, surprisingly, I had just sung something correctly. Once in 10 years.) Right, so they hear us.

And we hear them. 

They wake us up at night with honking car alarms and slamming doors. They wake us up early in the morning talking to their dog - which they bring to relieve himself in our yard. And, for about a year, they housed a couple of unbelievably noisy critters outside our bedroom window.
I've spent a bit of time imagining a host of quasi-terrible things I would like to say and do to these people. What I actually do is stop saying hello to them when we see each other, as though this is any kind of retribution for the many hours of lost sleep they confer upon us. At first, this makes me feel better. Hah, I didn’t say “good morning;” that will really show them!

But they never say “good morning” or “hello” either, so does that mean they’re angry at us too? Or are they just unfriendly?

For a while it really bothers me. What do we do that makes us bad neighbors? In what ways are we inconsiderate? Why are they so mean?  We talk about moving. We consider swapping our office with our bedroom, on the quieter side of the house. But mostly, I just wonder what they’re thinking.

I understand there is an ungodly host of mean, strange, and sordid people habituating this earth, and living next door to rude people doesn’t even register on the radar of enduring evil.

But it does get me thinking about myself – my response to malevolence. I live under the commandment to love my neighbors as myself. Literally. My neighbors.

So I decide to start trying to think of them with as much grace and forgiveness as I can – or, between the hours of 11 PM and 7 AM, as much as I can feebly muster up.
I decide that if I would like them to be just a smidge affable and a smidge more quiet (for crying out loud), then I should be the best neighbor I can. I shout “hello” at their backs, nearly aggressively working for pleasantries. I leave banana bread on their doorstep. I move their newspapers out of their driveway when they’re away.

And what comes of my benign gestures?

Well, not much. But I am trying to change the thing that I can – myself. And actually, that makes a whole lot of difference.



I kind of like the expression "WTF?"

I don't curse. I think it's ugly. Okay, sometimes it sounds both appropriate and comical from certain people, I admit. But I am not one of those people, and I would not actually say the words that WTF stands for. I do however find myself typing the acronym occasionally. Sometimes, it's just succinctly appropriate.

The other day I opened the mailbox to a hefty bill for one of the chemo infusions I received ---- IN 2010, nearly THREE years ago. This, my friends, just might be an occasion for WTF.

I only recently have stopped holding my breath as I open the mailbox. The constant flow of medical bills blissfully subsided some time ago now. As our lives normalized so too did our financial obligations. So I was caught a bit off-guard by a such a large bill from an era of indebtedness I thought to now be long-closed.

Who takes three years to send a bill? Why is that even legal?

I let the drastically tardy bill sit on my desk for a month. I see it many times over the 4 weeks it collects dust next to my stapler and cup of pens. I'll eventually call and make the payment; it just doesn't feel right to do so right away. The billing office took roughly 30 months to send it to me; I figure they can wait a few weeks while I stew over the injustice of their inefficiency.

Then, like clockwork, I receive another bill the following month, this one now states, "Your account is past due." Really? I want to call and tell them my payment is hanging out with their competency; they should let me know if they find either one.


And that my friends is a small peek inside survivorship life.


Trash Digging

Among my (many) poor qualities, pridefulness does not rank high.

I have never owned a fancy or even a brand new car, and I do not aspire to. Until recently, I held out with a dinosaur of a cell phone that flipped open and was anything but smart. I *might* have worn the same yoga pants 3 times this week. Oh, and I occasionally bring home other people’s trash.

Yes, that's right, trash - straight from the curb on trash day, carted back to my nice, clean home.

What can I say... other than that I take a lot of walks, so I see stuff. Plus I do live in a rather affluent area; people throw away some pretty nice things here. Wait, hold on, that’s not a very good excuse; when I lived among people poorer than myself, I still brought home trash.

In our mid-twenties, my husband and I rented a house on campus from the university where he did his doctorate. Our charming little white house was surrounded by apartments of undergrads, and I might have brought home their trash once or twice too: drunken-mid-western-teenager's trash.

I recall a so-procured office chair (that was pretty uncomfortable) and, my favorite: a desk that I dragged from the side of a dumpster into our backyard. Before I could get out to purchase a proper dog house for our newly adopted puppy, I gave the DIY/(very) recycled method a go. That cheap desk, only slightly transformed, with a straw bed inside, served our pup well in the first weeks.

Originally, I had plastic stapled to the roof of said-desk to help with warping from rain/snow. Not a week later, a huge storm ripped through town and left building debris and roof shingles scattered across the roads. Imagine my euphoria: I needed some roof shingles to cover the top of my dog’s desk, er, house, and then, like mana from heaven, roof shingles came raining down.

I would go so far as to say this dog house was preordained by God himself. Can’t you just tell by looking at it?

(pre-roof shingles)
Right, so in addition to the desk/dog-house, I’ve picked up a few other things here and there, curbside. While I am a far cry from a hoarder - I give, sell, or throw away anything my household is not putting to use sometimes, well, we can put other people’s trash to use.
While vacationing in New England, I once walked past this fantastic old painted tray. I was sure to make some room in my suitcase so that treasure of a souvenir could make it home with me.

And lately, here among my working-wealthy-urbinite neighbors, my repertoire of acquisitions includes: a mini basketball hoop, a plastic teeter-totter, a couple of spare chairs, a hideous framed painting that was great for recovering with fabric, a half-dead tree that came back to life… and probably some other stuff I don't remember.

Why let them go to the landfill if I can rescue them back into use?
I think this sporadic hobby of mine generally mortifies my husband; if I have to enlist his help in carrying the article home, he is none too happy to walk up to someone’s trash at the curb and walk away carrying something. I can understand that.

It does make me feel a little hillbilly-ish, strolling down PCH, past the mansions, with a piece of furniture hanging out of my stroller… stopping the flow of Mercedes and BMW’s, in my grubby exercise clothes, so I can cross the street yielding a large piece of “garbage.”

But my hilarious and humiliating jaunts are worth it for me - to sacrifice how I look for that moment for what I get out of it that’s lasting.

Recently, on my way home from an afternoon walk, I passed a little brown desk, set out to the curb in the rain. I kept walking. Turned around. Did a second walk past. Yes, that has potential. I picked it up and ambled awkwardly down the sidewalk for the remaining 25 yards until I got home.

I don’t need a desk. But I brought it home anyway. I cleaned it up and applied a coat of hip paint and a little bit of sanding. Voila. It was a useful stand for party-favors at a soiree that weekend and the following week I sold it on Craigslist. $50, thank you very much.

And what did it cost me? Just a little bit of elbow-grease and an ounce of pride.

I'm just saying, sometimes when you swallow your pride, you burp up a treasure. Or $50.

May my trash digging escapades inspire you to consider what you would bring home, or do differently, or not buy if it weren't for your pride.


Pink Out: 5 Ways to Show Support for the Cause

Need I tell you that October is breast cancer awareness month? This might be inspiring. Or it might make you want to throw something at the next pink ribbon you see.
Breast cancer awareness has taken off in the last couple of decades, hugely in part to the efforts of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Today, we see pink ribbons on everything from our yogurt to NFL player’s uniforms.

A lead breast cancer researcher in the Los Angeles area once explained to me that the funds and attention are behind breast cancer research because, unlike other cancers, it widely spans age-groups and outcomes. So, in short, all kinds of research can be conducted within the breast cancer field. The key to curing all cancers will probably first come from a breast cancer cure.
This makes me feel better. At least there is good reason for all the attention.

After doing a guest post at TheMomIWantToBe.com on ways to show support this month, I was inspired to compile a Top 5. If you too want to show your support for breast cancer awareness and the quest for a cure, the below are this survivor’s top suggestions:

1.) Join Army of Women
You can actually participate in studies to help eradicate the disease. All types of women, with/without cancer, all parts of the country can join and be a part of the research.

2.) Go 1-on-1 with Your Support
There are millions of women with breast cancer. Chances are you will know someone who is diagnosed at some point. As you should toward anyone undergoing a tragedy, have enough compassion to go out of your way to help them meet their everyday demands during an overwhelming time. And expect nothing in return.

3.) Give
Research takes money. Give to a reputable organization you can trust. Definitely check them out first; there are a lot of marketing gimmicks out there that actually give so little of your spending dollars to breast cancer research that they are not worth your time or money.

For example, if you’re buying Yoplait yogurt (which, before public outcry, was made with dairy stimulated by the hormone rBGH) and mailing in your lids so that 1 cent per lid will be donated (and paying 46 cents for a stamp), perhaps your efforts would be better directed elsewhere.

Really, countless causes and organizations are vying for our attention, support, sympathy, and of course, money. Within breast cancer research or breast cancer awareness alone, there are thousands upon thousands of organizations claiming their utility. Like everything in life, we have a responsibility to sift through the information available to us and make smart choices.

Here’s a helpful article on vetting nonprofits in general: Make Sure Your Donation Counts.

4.) Promote awareness

I want to say we all know there is such a thing as breast cancer. But reminders why you should be checking yourself, getting recommended mammograms, and seeing a doctor if you feel something unusual never seem to be unproductive.

Wearing your support for the cause is an easy way to do this. Plus, on a personal level, there is something really moving about someone making a statement on your behalf with a shirt, a bracelet, whatever it is that says, “I love this person enough to wear this pink thing, thinking of them.”

5.) Walk

Komen and Revlon and whoever else is doing walks these days are great. I like that people physically push themselves and therein are taking a measure to be healthier themselves. I like that money is raised. I like that hurting people have a constructive place to go and DO something in the name of their hurt (e.g., “I walk in honor of…”).

I feel a little like a minority being asked a question in which the answer is supposed to represent an entire race’s views. But I think most would agree these are some basic, constructive suggestions.
Happy October. Here's to finding the cure.



I have the honor of writing a weekly newsletter to subscribing members of my church. One of the recent topics was on our pastor's sermon, “Great Faith Gets Rewarded.” This really got me thinking about faith - actually, as I often do.

See, I believe there is a God. Most of the time.

Like, really-really most of the time. But the imperfection of my faith is massive.

There are people who are so filled with faith in God that they never wonder if they are wrong; they just seem to know they are right. I admire this kind of unblinking faith. Actually, I am totally in awe of it. But I do not posses it. I wonder about everything; I believe in God, even when I'm wondering if it's possible there is no God.

That's difficult for me to admit. Almost embarrassing.

But this is for anyone else who wonders, for anyone else who has ever been afraid their faith is not as real as the person next to them.

My faith does not sway based on my life circumstances. Rather, I'm saying I think it's okay to still have unanswered questions. To wonder. To contemplate. Yes, I would prefer child-like faith so strong it is unquestioning. But the trouble is, I remember wondering how things could be true as a child. How is there no beginning to God? How much does God interact in our lives? Why does a loving God make good people go to hell? And of course, why does so much bad happen in the world?

In the end, there is no explanation, fact, or data that will satisfactorily answer all metaphysical questions. We each must make a choice about what we believe and who we believe in. (Choosing not to think about it or to remain agnostic is still a choice.)

And so in the end, even though I wonder at times, I choose God. I choose faith that my life is not about me. That there is purpose to existence. I choose hope.

I figure, you don't have to have all the answers after that - and you don't have to pretend that you don't still have questions. You just have to make a choice.


Hello. My Name is Frazzled. (But You Can Call Me Mom.)

I was just telling a friend my kids had me particularly frazzled today and she expressed surprise. "So you are like the rest of us," she said with what I will infer to be a relieved chuckle. Whaaaaaaaaaaat? How I have hidden my parenting ineptitude from her for so long I do not know. 

Well, this one is for her, and for every other mama out there having a rough kid-day.

Some days I call them the Tag Team of Terror. My husband calls them Terrorists. They are our children. And whatever unflattering T-word you want to use, they seem to have both reached a pinnacle age for difficulty. ...Well actually, probably not, as we're only 5 years into this parenting thing and I fear we have a whole lot of difficult phases ahead. But regardless, those little T's are pretty darn difficult in tandem right now.

Should I admit that it's feels a tad cathartic calling them little T's? It's almost like I'm cussing at them, but not. Maybe that's how I should start expressing anger: call things by their first letter in accusatory tones. Stub my toe on the door and shout at said-door, "You D!" When my husband is upsetting me, "Stop being a B!" ...wait, that one doesn't work so well.

But back to my little T's. They got the best of me today, I'm afraid.

They fought. One screamed - a whole lot - like it was her only means of communicating. One argued - a whole lot - like he had suddenly acquired wisdom. They were loud, difficult, full of complaints and seemed to need the same toy/piece of food/pen/EVERYTHING at the same moment in a repeating round of bickering.

Why?!? (Picture arms outstretched to the sky, beseeching God.)

From the moment my daughter woke up and started screaming demands to be rescued from her crib...(Yes, she's nearly 2 and still in a crib; I like to keep them trapped as long as possible.)... and my son came sauntering out of bed complaining about the day of the week - it's been nonstop.

Unfortunately, to top-off the chaos of their combined-75-lbs of self-centered childishness + grumpy x2, I took them to the store in this state.

Short of sharing that unsavory experience, let me just say that there were a number of times I wanted to look around indignantly, like I might be thinking someone is playing a trick on me. (God?) But I didn't because then I might have had to meet the stares of the unfortunate shoppers in the store at the same time as us.

I take that back, those shoppers were not unfortunate. They were the opposite of unfortunate because they were not me. They got to watch/listen and get a free little pop of gratitude for their own lives.

I, on the other hand, came home from the arena for complaints and bickering, aka Fresh & Easy, looking like a haggardly old lady. Not that I had time to glance in a mirror to actually know what I looked like, but I could just feel it, feel the haggardly sticking right onto my forehead crease lines, unshaven legs, and Mom Jeans.

Are you kidding me? I only have two kids. 2! Why are they besting me?

How is it that two little humans, that I actually love so abundantly, can challenge my sanity so
completely? Can exhaust me so thoroughly? Can frustrate me so adeptly?

Little T's.

I feel I should balance my pretend-cursing at my kids with a more loving reminder on the joy and beauty of parenthood, but I don't want to. Not today anyway. Today I am simply commiserating with every other parent out there that, yes, raising little people is a ridiculously difficult, humbling job.

For some encouraging, uplifting parenting reminders,
you can check out my pal's post here.


Playground Love: Part II

Well, Love Bird mastered the challenge of drawing a heart. Can you tell?

Who are those other two spider-people next to the smiling-holding-hands-surrounded-by-hearts-couple? That's Lily's mom and me, who apparently also get to be present at their rendezvous. Good boy; chaperons are a good thing. But why do we look so angry?

Oh, and I *might* have encouraged the word "friends" instead of "love" inside that big heart. I didn't want to freak Lily's parents out too much. Plus the whole this isn't real love thing....


Playground Love

“There’s this girl. She had a white dress on yesterday and today she had on a red dress. When I see her, it just makes me think that girls are pretty,” said my son the second week of kindergarten.

What?! I guess that is starting now.

Luck was on my little Love Bird's side that week because we ran into said-girl at the park. “That’s the girl I told you about,” he whispered to me, pointing discretly to an adorable brunette running in circles around a tree-trunk. He bravely walked right over and introduced himself. (Is it brave? Does he realize there's anything to be afraid of?) The two proceeded to spend a few hours running around together, with a small pack of their siblings and other playground-instant-friends, in the Sunday afternoon sunshine.  It was pretty easy to pick-up on Love Bird's admiration of this girl, we now know is named Emma, as he followed her around and somersaulted next to her.

We heard a lot about Emma that week.

The following week, Love Bird came home talking about Lily. Who's Lily?
Lily sits next to him at Rug Time in his classroom and they had drawn pictures together that afternoon. Sorry Emma, that is pretty tough to compete with. Love Bird and Lily had exchanged drawings at the end of class, so my son came home with a random splay of lines on a paper, with her name across the top, and a small, somewhat discrete heart in the bottom corner.

Love Bird definitely noticed the heart.

We spent the next half hour with him trying to learn how to draw a heart. I must admit, this unfurled into him whining and crying that it was too hard and me yelling at him that he wasn’t listening to me. (Mommy-fail-moment.) When we both calmed down, he said, “I want to do it the easier way; can you show me how to write ‘love?’”

That would be when I realized he didn't just want to learn to draw a heart like her; he wanted to learn to draw one for her. That's inspiration.

Well, instead, he ended up taking the easy way out and reciprocating the love letter to his classmate in a way he knew how: a little tiny her and a little tiny him with the word “love” written above it was quickly produced.

Nothing says love like extra-long arms, missing torsos, and crazy-big eyes.
But then my little Love Bird asked to change his drawing to instead say “I love you” and that, for some unexplainable reason, had crossed a line for me. No. I want him to understand the significance of what love means – not to squander the word on whichever girl draws him a picture that day or wears a pretty dress. (What is pretty to a 5-year old boy, I am not sure.)

I proceed to launch into an entire lecture on the meaning of love and how the word is appropriate for those we know well and care deeply about. (Meanwhile, my attention-monger of a daughter is sitting next to us in my spinning office chair demanding that someone spin her. I am trying to stay focused on this serious conversation with Love Bird and ignore the increasingly indigent shouts of, “Turn! Turn!”) Why don’t I just let him tell her he loves her? That certainly would be easier.

But it would also be a lie. Love is deep and meaningful. It is bigger than a crush. I guess I just want that to be clear from the beginning – and this is very truly the beginning.

I encourage Love Bird to instead compliment what he likes about Lily or how he enjoys her friendship.

“Do you understand?” I ask him.

“Yes, I understand,” he replies. And then, “Can I write ‘I love you’ now?”
Oh well. He'll probably forget to take it to school with him tomorrow anyway.



Please Pass the Milk

In honor of World Milksharing Week

My story is part of the Blog carnival organised by World Milksharing Week, to celebrate World Milksharing Week 2013. Click here to read more stories about milksharing. If you’d like to participate too, please visit this page.

I need a deep freezer and a lot of glass storage containers.

Actually, “a lot” may be an understatement; I need a Smucker’s factory of glass jars.

The life of stored breast milk can be safely extended with the use of glass receptacles and deep freezer storage. So, in my endeavor to store up donated breast milk for my unborn child, I start collecting glass containers. I buy mason jars by the case and put out a call to everyone I know to start saving them for me. Dozens of empty pickle, jelly, spaghetti, and all manner of food product-jars begin to manifest.

I run my collection through the dishwasher and then stand over the stove, dropping each one into a huge steel pot of boiling water. Each gets a 10 minute bath to complete the sanitation process. I'm pretty sure my baby, tucked in-utero underneath my tong-clad-hands, grows accustomed to this soundtrack of my pregnancy: the rolling boil that clanks the glass against the metal.

I order a deep freezer, and I divvy out the collected, sanitized jars to my small army of girlfriends who are ready to pump for my daughter.

After having undergone a bilateral mastectomy last year, I no longer possess milk ducts. Breastfeeding is not an option for me.

I’m coming off a harried path of altered plans and broken hearts, of the coping and improvisation of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. I will accept my friends’ milk with open arms and a grateful heart. And when those stores of cloudy, yellowish-white life force dwindle under the demands of my daughter’s voracious little appetite, I will branch into the world of public milk sharing.

In the end, other women’s breast milk will sustain my daughter for the first 9 months of her life:
17 different women. 4 counties. 89 days straight before formula was introduced. Some 270 days with breast milk in her diet – of which I did not provide a drop.

Ideally, of course I would never have chosen to do it this way. And frankly, it sounds a little scary in retrospect. But, like so many choices in life, it was not plucked from the ideal; this was a path born of improvisation.

And also so often like life, the process of managing the imperfect became itself beautiful.

Hungry to fill my daughter’s belly with the best odds I could, I drove across the southern part of the state collecting milk for her - and along the way got to witness the self-sacrificing love of friends and the goodwill and generosity of strangers. I found women on milk sharing forums, met them and talked with them, came home with bags of their milk, which I flash-heated and happily fed to my healthy infant, with her peditricians' blessing (and praise.)

So today, here is my great praise and deep gratitude to those women, to the women willing to give their time, efforts, and precious milk for the benefit of others. Here is to improvisation, to making the best out of what we’re given.

Here’s to milk sharing.



Joy + a Cup of Coffee

It's Friday, coffee day.

For my husband, every morning he awakens to find himself still breathing on God's Good Earth, it’s coffee day - in the morning and the afternoon. I prefer to keep coffee at an arm’s length, grabbing at it when I feel the need to artificially stimulate my tired mind or when I simply want to feel like it’s a special occasion. Like Fridays.
It’s nearing the end of the work week and both my husband and I work from home on Fridays. Those are reasons enough to celebrate the day, in my book.

The java itself might be French press, it might be espresso with steamed milk. It probably won’t be regular drip coffee, as my husband is kind of a coffee snob. I will reheat mine at least twice (did I mention I have two small kids?) and I will most likely leave about ¼ of the cup to sit in the mug until I get to it as a nice mid-afternoon treat, which tends to nullify the premium quality of it (and disgust my husband.) But regardless of the type or time of day, it will be warm  -err, or room temperature - and a little bit sweet and something to enjoy.

Admittedly, I might even have fallen asleep last night thinking about having coffee with my husband in the morning. Pathetic? Well, here I must admit that I also often lie in bed at night and ponder what I will eat for breakfast in the morning, or lunch, or dinner.
When my life is calm enough that planning meals or looking forward to a cup of coffee is customary, then I am in a place of overarching peace. Worry, fear, and stress are so quiet that small and regular joys can fill the forefront of my mind. Yes, today I am blessed.

May we all be filled with the ability to take something as small as the day of the week or a cup of coffee and find joy in it.


Yard Art: A Story Without a Point

Sometimes nature is just not on an animal's side.

Am I now going to launch into a tyrade against my defective genes/my inhereted (BRCA) gene mutation responsible for the massive tumor that grew across my chest throughout my 20's?

No. I'm going to talk about bunnies. Again.

How I wish I had a picture to share with you.
I nearly recreated everything just to show you;
except we now live 2200 miles from that yard.
But you can imagine something akin to this.
It has been my experience that mother bunnies don’t canvas an area very well before stowing their babies. We once found a little burrow of baby bunnies right smack in the middle of our lawn. No trees around, no logs, no rocks, just right there in the open - in the middle of a grassy yard. Oh, and a yard that housed two rambunctious, large dogs.

In spite of Mother Bunny’s stupidity (we probably would have been doing Mother Nature a favor by letting this creatures’ offspring die), we felt the need to protect these innocent, furry little lives.

We were afraid to move them, in case this fantastic specimen of a parent would then either abandon or not be able to find them. But we couldn't keep our dogs inside the house for the next however long until the bunnies grew up and left the nest. What to do?

Well, we took near bouts everything we had in the yard and garage and built a sort of cage around the burrow. Lawn chairs, bistro tables, rakes, all manner of yard fare was piled in an encapsulating circle of fantastic yard art. It was a tottering tower of protection. A staggering statue of ingenuity. A fanciful fortress of fortification… Okay I’m done. It was cool. In a hillbilly sort of outlandishly strange creation.

We thought it would keep the dogs away during the day, and then at night when they were in the house, Mother Bunny could make her way in to her babies. Our poor dogs spent hours pacing around that pile, sniffing, barking, digging. Actually, it was probably good for them – added some excitement to their meaningless, uneventful day. 

Eventually though, in spite of our best efforts, the dogs made a way in and killed all of the fuzzy little babies. Our lawn was a mortuary of tiny, dead rabbit carcasses splayed across it. Our efforts toward protecting them were for naught.

Sometimes nature is just on an animal's side (i.e. the dogs').

If this was a sermon or a story with any kind of larger point, this would be where I make it. Maybe something about the truimph in persistance, go dogs, or the futility of failed efforts, no matter how grand. Because yes, our mound was grand. 

But it’s not. (A story with a point, that is.) I just wanted to tell you something I recalled the other day that makes me laugh - not the part where the bunnies die, of course, the part where our furniture and tools are piled in a mound on our lawn.

Plus, well, I thought I could use some animal redemption points given that I recently wrote about the pointlessness of bunny ownership. I mean, we did try to save them and all. I can’t help it that every last one of them was ferociously killed by my dogs.

This story really didn’t really help my animal cred, did it?