Thursday, December 8, 2011

O Christmas Tree: Tish the Fish

I haven't had a lot to say lately, this being my favorite (and busiest) time of year.

Truth be told, I've been much better at keeping The Hungry Little Blackbird current and up to date for once. (That never happens, in case you're wondering.)

But I miss you. I really do. I miss telling stories and feeling like my quiet little life matters.

So in lieu of some brilliant, meaningful post, I reckon I'm going to tell you about a Christmas ornament or two (and maybe some traditions) this month and call it good. Who knows, maybe if you're good little readers, I'll even regale you with tales of New Year's resolutions in a couple weeks.

Kidding, of course. I'm terrible at those damn things.

On to the ornament...

This is "Tish the Fish." Silly little thing, isn't she? I bought her about five years ago, the first Christmas Dom and I had in the new Eagle River apartment. I'd planned on forgoing a tree that year because I was strapped for cash and I honestly thought Dom was too young to really care. He wouldn't know the difference, right?


Thank goodness for mamas. Mine sent an emergency Christmas tree fund and we headed down to our local hardware store in search of our towering pine. That was the year we learned the ugly truth about price gouging in Alaska. See, it's not limited to gas, milk, fresh fruit, or rent. Seems it flows straight into the Christmas season, too. Humbug!

So, with our beautiful, half bald Charlie Brown Christmas tree sitting in the front seat (it was small enough to be wedged in the floor board and we were so worried the wind from the back of the truck would blow off the few remaining needles that Dom and I chanced it--he worried and fretted from his carset in the back), we made our way home.

But the problem with starting over is that you usually start with little to nothing. And that includes decorations. (Who thinks of holiday decorations in the summer when you move into a new place?)

So that first Christmas, Dom and I found an old paint pail around the back of the building and lodged the trunk between two rocks. We filled it with water, admired it a few seconds and headed out to the local super store to get whatever decorations we can find on what's left of our miniature holiday budget. Turned out, it wasn't much after the obligatory twinkly lights and small glass balls that every tree must have, according to a three year old.

We had enough left for one single "special" ornament to start our collection with. We couldn't decide between a hanging manger or a polyresin snowman and my boy child and I haggled back and forth for a good 15 minutes before we saw her.

She made us both laugh. We couldn't believe this sparkly, glittery fish was staring at us from a top hook--all alone and abandoned. It was almost as if Tish the Fish knew she didn't have a chance in hell in finding a spot on a typical Christmas tree and she'd all but given up. I mean, she was all dressed up in all that makeup and fabulous eyebrow tweezing with no place to go...the proverbial last girl standing at the school dance. I guess I could relate.

Who better to celebrate with us that year than a renegade purple lady fish that had absolutely nothing to do with the holiday? Exactly.

So Tish the Fish came home with us and, somehow, shows up every year. It's amazing with the moves and the kids pawing through ornaments like they're made of titanium. But there she is. And there she'll stay as long as she wants to come back each year.

Our tree and our family have grown in the years that followed and to look at our family Christmas tree today, you'd hardly know there was a time when I tied yarn around Hot Wheels and plastic army men to second as ornaments when I found glaring bare spots. Now we've got handmade next to hand blown and they all tell a story. But it all started with one purple fish with giant red glitter lips.

Merry Christmas, Tish the Fish! Here's to five great years...

And Merry Christmas to you, too.



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thanks, I needed that

Last week was tough. I'm battling change in myself and my habits and that's never easy. For the past few years, I've had this constant fear of failure and fear of falling short plague me like nothing I've ever experienced. It's crippling. It's ridiculous.

And I'm proud to say, it's almost over.

Change is never easy, but it's necessary. And easier to accomplish one little baby step at a time.

After four years, one brain surgery, and two babies later, I returned to competition. And it was a beautiful thing. Jiu jitsu is often a metaphor for life..what you do wrong when pushed on the mat, you often do wrong when pushed in life. It's a fantastic mirror, and for the first time in a long time yesterday, I got a chance to take a peek, and like what I saw in the reflection.

Welcome back to the sport, but more importantly, welcome back to the scrappy, stubborn girl you used to be, Megan.

Onward ...


Monday, November 7, 2011

A week in the life

Early November.

As I stare out the window, there's snow. Everywhere. Deep and up to the calf-region, even.

It's tournament week, I'm battling a dislocated rib and some misplaced swagger, but other than that, it's a fantastic start to this, my most favorite month of the year.

I don't have any fabulous updates to give you with all that's going on. The wheels are turning, though. They always are. In place of a remarkable post written well and full of inspiration, I'll cheat and give you a glimpse of my life a week at a time.

Monday 10/31/2011

Halloween. It snowed. A lot. Our kids were troopers and demanded to keep going, even when the failed potty training caused an emergency on a stranger's front porch. True story to save for first dates and such.

Tuesday: 11/1/2011

My 'Kenna. She's a beauty. And four and a half months now. Sigh.

Wednesday: 11/2/2011

My view at the "factory." Not really a factory as much as a desk, but still. It can be a great view when I need to daydream.

Thursday: 11/3/2011

My Boo. He's so patient with me when I make him go shopping...especially if there is a Hot Dog truck handy for any mid-shopping hunger pains.

Friday: 11/4/2011

My Boy Wonder in the season's early snow. Also present in the photo is the goofy neighbor kid. Riding a bike. In the snow. Seriously. It was funny to watch.

Saturday: 11/5/2011

My grandmother's Ginger Crinkles. Boo and I call them our "snow cookies" because when the weather changes, we crave these. And the smell of cinnamon, ginger, and butter (yes, they smell like butter) that invades the house. Better than any Yankee candle I overspend on.

Sunday: 11/6/2011

I spent my mama's birthday recovering from an early Thanksgiving celebration we had with our Gracie family. It was such a wonderful time, it was well worth the constant running of the dishwasher, vacuum, and sink water. We love our hometown family. They are the only reason we've made it in Alaska this long (so far from our real families.)

Have a beautiful week.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Dispatches from Bottom Cross-sides: At war with the fear

It’d be an understatement to say that I’ve been a head case lately.

My poor husband has watched me melt down at the drop of a hat, without provocation, and usually without warning. Like watching ice cream melt, P has watched my face move from the girl he married to the droopy, snot-nosed, weepy mess who can’t really explain why she’s crying or pissed off. Or both at the same time. I’m fun like that!

But he knows what’s going on with his vain, proud, and formerly-scrappy wife. Twice now he’s given me a pep talk about this crippling fear that invades my psyche and turns me into a sh*& show on the mat and beyond.

I’ve never handled the stress of performing well. Ask my folks. They’ll tell you about the countless swim meets where I spent the hours before my races in the bathroom, sick as a dog, pausing only to emerge long enough to swim before returning back to the chlorine-stank depths of that pool bathroom. Nasty, right?

My fighting days? I’d be nauseous for a week leading up to the event. Sick up to the second before my entrance music started. Sick as the ref gave us instructions. Sick until the very second I saw her make a move towards me and then I didn’t feel anything. I just did.

But it’s never been an issue with jiu jitsu.

It’s always been an escape for me, a second family where I felt safe and could be myself. Good, bad, ugly—whatever Megan happened to show up that day finished the workout and rolled until class ended.

But thanks to a brain surgery, two gorgeous babies, and a busy work and family life I’ve been away from the day to day regular training for a little over three years. These days, with the November tournament looming, everyday has become more pressure filled. More intense. More frustrating. More agonizing. Tournament time highlights everything you don’t know and everything you should know by now. The things you want to know but don’t have time enough to learn yet. The things “this person” knows or “that person” has perfected that stump you every time, no matter how hard you try not to fall for it.

Maybe that’s why it only seems like 1 in 3 really sign up for and show up to tournaments in our sport. It’s not easy, despite how gentle and laid back our art is supposed to be. Losing sucks. Losing in front of your entire town sucks more. There’s no way around the fact that you’re going to lose on your journey. It’s just that it stings so much.

The rush to prepare, to lose two babies’ worth of “outta shape,” and to gain three years’ of lost mat time turned me into a big weenie who gets pushed around, kneed in the head, scratched, and smooshed. A weenie who allows this all to happen in this strange, submissive, sorry state I find myself in.

I roll “safe” rolls and still spend an inordinate amount of time talking or stalling. I don’t rush to work with people I don’t know, fearing the worst in them. (Or maybe fearing the worst in myself, I’m not sure.) Hang out on the perimeter of the mat, waiting for a safe spot to jump in.

Fear has shrunk my jiu jitsu world incredibly small these three past months since coming back after Makenna was born and I’m starting to feel the tight space of this emotional and physical cage. Instead of a big, happy jiu jitsu family, I find myself living with the few people I’ll roll with and the rest of the world is “the others.” I avoid “the others.”

But this morning over coffee, P made it very clear that the time for feeling sorry for myself and being afraid of my own shadow was long past.

And it sounded just like one of the most influential men I’ve ever known said to me when I’d just turned 13 and moved up to the “grown folks” swim team from the safety of the little kids’ team.

“You’ve been here three months now,” Leo, my old coach, barked at me as I hid in the slowpoke lane with the injured swimmers. (No, for the record, I wasn’t injured. I was a chickenshit.)

“Quit acting like you’re lost.”

He didn’t feel sorry for me. He didn’t ask if the bigger, faster athletes scared me (they did). He didn’t coddle me.

He called me out and kicked my tail right into the lane I belonged where I had to work my ass off just to keep up for a few sets each day before I’d start falling behind. And then the next week, I’d hang on for a few more sets before falling off. And then months later, I’d be in a brand new lane, falling behind when my muscles and lungs couldn’t hang with the newer, faster swimmers. But I kept on moving upward and onward until I was doing everything I thought I couldn’t when I was 13.

Genius, right?

So in the coming weeks, if I accidentally pull your hair, push you around, fail miserably and keep coming at you breathing like I’ve got a Mack truck on my chest, bear with me. I’m looking for that fire I lost a few years ago and you’re helping me find it. I’m trying to switch lanes and you’re the only reason I’m going to get there.


Friday, September 30, 2011

Mind Candy: This Week's Finds

The truth is that I don't have a lot going on these days. Oh, sure, I'm busy as I've ever been, but the family is on a sort of "buzzing along comfortably" track that's moving us past our short fall here in the AK and into colder weather.

But I hate to fall off the blogosphere radar because once I do, it's so incredibly hard to find motivation to pull myself back up.

That, and there have been some super fascinating reads out there this week that I figured I'd just share. A chance for me to check in, and a chance for you to find something useful. Win-win, see?

On to the mind candy, Jeeves.

Top Ten Books Lost to Time at
The list includes Jane Austen's Sandition, so what's not to love about this post?! (Yes. Still. Love. Austen.)

7 Reasons Why We Love 7 Reasons at Psychology Today
A look into why the number 7 is fantastic for many, many reasons. (Seven, to be exact!)

21 Ways to Pray Throughout Your Day at
Can never have too much face time with the Big Man, can we? And did you notice how the 21 was basically the 7 from the previous link, three times over? Ha! I didn't!

Would Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters Have Self Published? at all about Jane's Ranch
Again with the Jane Austen. But I can't help it. I love her, I really do.

Have a fantastic weekend!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dispatches from bottom cross-sides: A girl's guide to BJJ

(Author note: This is a sad attempt at humor, and definitely not an approach I recommend you take on your path in jiu jitsu. It's simply the truth dispatched from from my tiny corner of the world's jiu jitsu mat--where I'm usually pinned beneath an opponent with plenty of time to mull over things like this. True story.)

I've been a part of the art for five years now. Can you believe that? I started out as a chubby newly-minted Judo brown belt (sankyu) with nowhere to train. Over the course of the years, I've dabbled in MMA, had a baby, had a brain surgery, had another baby, had a few temper tantrums, had some fun at Worlds, and picked up a few tricks along the way for surviving your occoasional "off day."

I hate to admit it, but the road back from LONG, LONG months off is tough. It actually sucks BIG TIME most of the days of the week. In fact, I was lying on the floor of our living room the other night, talking to P about what a crap-tastic night I had on the mat and I had an epiphany.

"I want to be good," I said to my husband, a blackbelt who hasn't had a bad jiu jitsu day in five years (he's been doing the art six, I think. Poo on him.)

"I just don't want to get good."

He nodded in his sage-like fashion and shrugged his shoulders in that "what can ya do" manner he does so well. (Well, for starters, you can give me that "get good quick" guide you're hiding from me....)

Does that make sense? It did in my head at the time, and I guess that's what counts anyway. So while I've been pinned beneath Brendan, or backpedaling like my life depended on it from Bo, I've come up with the following survival techniques. Hope they come in handy for you sometime. They sure get me through the agonizing hour or two....

A Girl's Guide to Jiu Jitsu: Surviving the Occasional Bad Day

1. Learn the gift of gab

We could be total strangers when the match begins, but if I'm stressed or at a loss of what to do, you can be certain I'm going to become your best friend. I'm going to ask you about your family, your favorite color, any good movies you might have seen, your pick for Sunday's game, or whether you'd take Big Bird over Grover in a cage match.

I'll talk faster and with more focus the more you push the pace. I'll comment on my toenails and their fabulous green color. I'll ask you to look and when you do, I'll increase the distance between us and shrug when you realize I've just talked my way out of a potential foot lock.

2. Choose your opponents wisely

Listen, you might be the next Dalai Lama with a pure soul and the cure for cancer somewhere in that brain of yours. But please believe I'm watching your roll, and if your a grabby, limb yanking maniac, well, chances are high that we'll never occupy the same 10-foot radius of mat together. We'll be like opposite ends of a highly-charged magnet...the closer you come when looking for a partner for the next round, the further I'll scoot away. We'll keep the same twenty feet of space between us no matter where you go.

It's nothing personal, it's just that since I turned 30, my joints are made of glass and my skin screams in protest whenever its pinched. What I used to be able to power through and return in kind when I was 29, now makes me weepy at 33, as though you meant it on purpose and had no other goal in that match other than giving me a thumbprint bruise on the fat part of my arm. And then I have to tattle on you to my husband, and then he as to address the situation...I'm kidding. Sort of...

3. In case of emergency, deploy "girly scream"

God, this one is embarrassing to admit. But I do it so often it has to count...and when I see my sisters on the mat out there doing the same thing, well, I understand its power.

When I say scream, what I really mean is that sort of shriek-slash-laugh we do when we're suddenly hoisted up in the air in a mega-sweep.

Usually when I've been caught unaware (which is always)...the moment I'm airborne, I'll let out this banshee-esque squeal that serves two purposes: one, it'll alert everyone in earshot that I'm up in the air and could end up warned.

Two, it lets the sweeper know that I'm terrified and have the expectation that when I land, I will have my spleen and kidneys still intact. It's a sort of "OMG" shriek that hopefully sends the message that I'm about to pee my pants in fear and for you to reconsider that the next time you catch me off balance. I'm like a cat and my claws will stick in the ceiling if you keep it up...

The girly scream's close cousin is the slipped expletive. I use this one mostly as I'm crashing to the ground in a failed take-down attempt. They slip out, unintentional, but make me feel better just the same. Therapeutic even, as my face is ground down into that smelly blue mat while you perfect your awesome sprawl. (Have I mentioned how much I hate your sprawl? Almost as much as I hated your jab when we used to spar, but nearly as much as I think your triangle is the Spawn of Satan.)

4. Embrace the power of distractions

Do you think it's a coincidence that I bring my beautiful kids with me to training? Sure, it's partly because nobody in the city of Anchorage wants to babysit all three of them at a time five nights a week...but it's also that they come in real handy at about the 42 minute mark of the 60-minute class.

You know, that point where you heart is hammering in your chest so hard you can't keep up with your your lungs are sucking in while you're trying to push out and all you manage to do is make a lot of noise and NOT get a lot of air in?

The point where you can no longer sip water and you just sorta douse your face with half your water bottle and hope some ends up in your mouth?

Yep, that point.

It's no secret that my baby girl doesn't cry, but I still pick a point in practice to hover over her like she's wailing and hollering in panic. I'm not above pinching her foot to garner the desired sound effects.

In gi class, my favorite trick is the ol' belt/pants emergency. Just flattened me out for three minutes straight? Suddenly I have no mission in life save one: create the perfect obi (belt) knot. I will tie, retie, tie again, retie a fourth time until that darn thing looks so good Sensei Jigoro Kano would give me the thumbs up from his grave. After that, I'll redo my ponytail. Fix my eyebrows, and trim my toenails.

Beep beep!

Round's over? My bad. Next time, my friend, for sure... Ha!

5. Dish out "grossio jiu jitsu" and learn a few dirty tricks

I am not above the "accidental" elbow drive into your thighs to loosen a guard.

Have you ever watched two women roll? Especially two women who are'll see moves that would make Ric Flair proud. I've been in matches with Lauren that have ended and I have about a quarter less hair then when I started.

I've used a friend's ponytail as a means to keep her head pinned to the ground (a move we've dubbed the "hair bar") and I'm not above "accidentally" kicking you in the sportsbra if the situation calls for it. I've spit in Jayson's eye (not on purpose, but it sure helped the situation out a lot), pulled Patrick's leghair, and used Jordan's forehead as a post to help me stand up.

I'm ruthless, it's true, but what I lack in technique and gas tank, I sure make up for in creativity.

See you on the mat...


Monday, September 12, 2011

A Real, Live Writer

I got to attend my very first writers' conference this weekend. Be it money, time, energy...whatever...I've wanted to attend one ever since I started my MFA program back in 2002 and have never been able to.

Over the summer, I saw a call go out for scholarships to attend this year's Alaska Writers Guild conference and threw my entry into the pool, thinking nothing would probably ever come of it.

That's the way most exciting stories start out, isn't it?

So there I was, scholarshipped to the max and sitting in a large hotel conference room waiting for brilliance. Waiting for leadership. Waiting for that line to be drawn in the sand that is my life, clearly marking "before" and then one for "after."

(Cue crickets.)

Turns out, not even access to literary agents, publishers, and industry experts can validate your feelings and dreams as a writer. Hell, if anything, they seem to be there to knock your dreams back a few notches and into the "doable" category.

I gleaned a lot from the speakers. I learned one's preference when it comes to the allmighty query. I learned how another turns her feature-writing abilities into short stories. I heard a take on where publishing stands in 2011, and even how I can be funny even if I am pretty sure I am not.

But nowhere in there was the magic equation to turn word documents in to literary alchemy that I always assumed one learned at a writer's conference. This entire time, I've been waiting for some experience to validate my existence as a writer...whether it's a big chunk o' change advance, landing an agent, or making that golden connection at a conference. Something out there would turn me into a real, live writer and I just had to find it.

Didn't find it hiding under the lunch buffet Saturday afternoon and it sure wasn't taped to the white board later in the afternoon. I was stymied when it wasn't on the agenda. Nobody took the time out of their presentations to tell me I was a writer. A good one. One that was going to make it big, and while they were at it, lay down the road map to get there, and believe me, I was ready. Never happened.

Alaska is funny, too. I think if a moose walked in and sat down at a table, the speakers wouldn't have been more taken aback than they were with the rag tag group of rowdy writers who showed up this weekend. Loud. Persnickety. Opinionated. Not impressed enough by the talent to wear an unstained shirt. Unimpressed by the pedigrees and the client lists, the Alaskan writers were unabashadly themselves and likely sent the guests back to California wondering what they just witnessed.

No. No literary alchemy this weekend. Just a couple new friends and the feeling that I've been on the right track all along...that I've been a real, live writer the whole time. Funny, right?

No shame in the long way, I guess.



Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vox Humana: A Manifesto of Sorts

I've been lukewarm about blogging lately for some reason.

A lot of it has to do with the schedule changes, the season changes, and the regular, mundane stress that ebbs and flows. (Though we are most definitely on the upswing of an ebb, please believe!)

Much of the time, I read other blogs with a slight twinge of envy. How do they come up with posts so often? Where do they get so much material? I flipflop back and forth about what the hell the point is of this blog. Informative? (Probably not. I was never the greatest student, and there's a reason I didn't go into full time teaching after I earned my MFA. ) Anecdotal? Yes, mostly. Fun? I'm trying.

Today, NPR posted links to the StoryCorps project. (You can read all about this project and listen/watch their amazing stories here.) They collect stories from Americans of every background, creed, and age and save them. Some stories get turned into incredible animated shorts. Seriously. Go. Look.

One of the shorts is from a historian and he talks about how humans have used their voices over time (written and verbal). The power of a whisper, the excitement of a shriek. The timelessness of stories from our grandparents and how they're all disappearing before they can be told. And that's even if somebody's listening...

There a times when I'm typing these posts andI feel a little self-indulgent. More so when I link it to my facebook account. Who the heck really cares that I had a bad day? That my toddler can have the manners of a baby mountain gorilla? I drift, now and then, on a sea of doubt about what my voice is for in relation to this blog.

But then there was StoryCorps. And while I don't have tales of 9/11 or life-long loves (yet...we're working on it), I still have something to say.

I have our stories.

The chances are pretty high that a New York literary agent isn't going to come knockin' on my e-mail door with a big book deal to turn these snippets into a "Marley and Me" we could call "Gorilla Boy and Me." But I think that was never the point.

What I think this entire project is for, has to do with my kids. For them. Their kids. Their grandkids.

One day I'll be gone, and assuming that a zombie Apocalypse hasn't gripped the world and the Internet still exists, they'll have these words and they'll hear my voice telling them about us.

Our family. The time Andrew woke up forty-seven times in one night. The time Dominic stuck his tongue to the frozen flag pole. The sweet baby Makenna is, and how she'll smile for an hour straight as long as you say her name over and over in a sing-song voice. The struggles Patrick goes through earning his engineering degree while raising a rather robust family of loud individuals. My role as ring master in our entertaining circus of life.

Snapshots. Stories I won't remember ten years down the line, but matter just the same.

I'll remember the big stories--the births, the moves, the grand life changes--but maybe I won't always remember the way Andrew drinks his bathwater no matter how nasty we tell him it is. (We're almost 99 percent sure he pees in his tub. Just sayin'. Don't judge.) And I want them all to know who they were. How they became who they are. How Patrick and I, and our friends and families, helped them get there.

At last, I know what the Funny Little Blackbird is all about. And I'll never run out of material again.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Dear Makenna: You are Beautiful

It was a conversation I had with P a couple weeks ago. It popped back up again when I was talking to a good friend of mine and her middle school-aged daughter. I see it all the time with various friends and family members who have teen or tween-aged daughters. It’s a memory I have myself. I grew up watching in with my mother and her constant diets and struggles.

How long have women had hate-hate relationships with themselves? Their self-image? The very body that does miraculous thing and proudly carries them through life?

Since…like, ever? I imagine cave-moms counting mammoth points or pinching the extra skin beneath their chins while bent over a running river and catching a glimpse of their reflections. Did cave teenagers freak out when the old sabre tooth skin didn’t fit the same as it used to? Probably.

It makes me sad. The hours I lost (and still lose, just ask my husband) hating myself. Hating the changes that came after each beautiful child was born. Lamenting a pair of size 6 jeans I can’t fit into as if those very Levi’s defined my very being.

I worry about Makenna. I was a self-loathing teenager in 1994. My friend’s daughter deals pressure in an amplified version in 2011. What will my beautiful girl contend with in 2026 when she’s 15?

I worry that when she’s 15, she won’t hear me anymore. Just like I tuned out my own mother for the most part between the years of 1993 and 2000, Makenna will flex her independence muscles and take whatever I say with a grain of salt.

So I’ll say it now. And I’ll pray she finds these words when she needs them. I pray she hears them.

August 26, 2026

Dear Makenna,

You are such a beautiful baby right now, and I know when you are reading this, you are a beautiful young woman. A light shines from you as I type this, and I have no doubt whatsoever that it is still shining, brighter than ever, now.

I wondered exactly how to put this. What was it that I wanted you to understand after you read this, fifteen years later?

More than anything, I want you to love yourself as much as we love you.

I want you to love yourself now, as you are, and not make ridiculous promises to yourself that you’ll be happy if…if you lose ten pounds…if you get yourself back into a size 6 or a size 12 or whatever ridiculous size robs you of your happiness. Love yourself as you are. Right now.

There’s a picture here of me when I was 15 years old. Like you are now. Look at me. Not too bad, right? Sure, the hair was a bit frizzy and unkempt and I was most likely rocking a uni-brow…but I was talented, bright, and had wonderful friends. I read a lot and smiled constantly. I got good grades. I had loyal friends who loved me. I was a good swimmer on the varsity team. I was on a fast track that would lead me to Texas A&M eventually. To graduate school beyond that… To your dad and brothers and you even beyond that…

And you know what? I hated myself at 15. I thought I was too chubby to be in a bathing suit. I ran from the locker room to the pool as fast as I could, lest some stupid boy catch a glimpse of me in a Speedo and gag. I cringed whenever teachers called on me in class because I thought the attention would eventually focus on how out of shape I was or how fat my thighs were. Isn’t that crazy? I hated pictures because I thought my face was too round.

(That’s a terrible habit I’m still trying to break. How many pictures of me do you really see? I have a few favorites that I keep on Facebook…but they are all highly screened and selected. There are NO random, casual shots of me. Anywhere.)

I spent so much time hating myself and worrying about what others thought of me, I let it rob me of joy. It made me uptight. It made me sad a lot, truth be told. I let stupid things, like a-hole ex-boyfriends who broke my heart, be my fault because I thought I wasn't pretty enough. Or small enough.

And I’ll be damned if you do that to yourself, my sweet girl.

You are beautiful.

I will tell you that thirty times a day for the rest of your life if that’s what it will take to break the cycle.

No size on the back of a pair of jeans will define you. No stupid boy in your algebra class will have the power to make you feel unworthy with a careless comment about “curves.” No fake, poisonous friends will ever pinch your cheeks and shatter your self-esteem by calling you Miss Piggy. You are too smart for that noise.

You are beautiful.

You will grow up and hold your head high. You'll do amazing things and make us proud, no matter who you become. You will shine your light--haters and naysayers be damned.

And the best part? You’ll have me, your dad, your brothers, and a whole army of family and friends behind you the whole way, cheering you on.

Shine on, baby girl…shine on.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over? (A WTF?! Post)

I have this sick obsession with perfection.

Don’t misread that, though.

Notice I didn’t say, I have this sick obsession and I’m always perfect. I am pretty far from that noise.

But I beat myself up often. I have lists that I lose telling me all the things that I need to do to make my life easier. I have ideas in my head about what my kids should behave like, what my house should look like, and what size I should really be. (No muffin tops make it into my daily hallucinations.)

I tend to gloss my life over in my blog. I subscribe to the “positive thoughts bring positive outcomes” mantra and I generally try not to kvetch and moan in my posts.

But holy crap, BatCrazy.

I’m drowning here.

And I think I’ll take a minute and talk about it for once. My poor husband can’t take anymore of my preferred method of dealing (holding it in until I have an atomic meltdown and freakout).
In the past 24 hours I have really screwed the pooch a few times.

In addition to cheating on the chores and the daily to-dos, I’ve manage to piss of a supervisor at work, screw up meeting notes, and spill coffee all over my desk (and paperwork.)

I’ve gloriously screwed up a chance to teach a kid’s writing workshop at the local library by being a couple days late getting the proposal to the librarian. She wasn’t very nice when she emailed this afternoon and told me, essentially, “thanks, but you’re too much of a flake right now…try back in 2025 when you’re kids are grown and you’ve got yourself together.”

I mean, obviously, she didn’t say those exact words…but that’s what I gleaned from her two-line dismissal. And the truth of the whole thing is that I am crushed. I was really looking forward to that October even (Yes, she’s a bit of a driver, isn’t she? The damn event wasn’t for two months!)

The toughest part of this season of my life boils down to one thing: I’ve got a million “sparks” going of in my head that I want to chase down. I have a perfect version of myself that I want to be—that slimmed down, organized, spiritual, civic-minded SAINT that tortures me from the recesses of my brain.

But it seems I don’t exactly have the life to support it at the moment.

I have three beautiful children. (And one fantastic, supportive and busy husband.)

All three kids are at incredibly needy, demanding stages right now that just don’t encourage long jags at the computer, recycling, or really, any other productive activities during their waking hours. (I ran a vacuum over the carpet between unloading my work items and serving dinner…and you would have thought I’d neglected them for days on end with all the clamoring they did to be heard over the din of the vacuum’s engine).

I had a twenty minute conversation with one of my best friends via text last night. She had to text message me off al edge because I really couldn’t take my attention off the toddler at that particular moment—had I taken the time to call her, he would have stolen my keys and driven himself to Pizza Hut. I had to express my roiling emotions with a damned emoticon.

I know, I know. Cut everyone a little slack.

Me. The hubs. The second-grader who started school this week. The two-year old who is, well, two years old (poor guy!). The brand new baby in a house of crazies.

But it’s hard. And when I’m crying with my face stuffed in the stained sofa (what is that oblong blob, anyway?!), all I can think about is: rinse and repeat.

“Every day is the same. You’ll never get your laundry folded or your book written.” rolls on a repeating loop with sinister pipe organ music grinding away in the background and Vincent Price laughing that “Thriller” laugh at me. Creepy!

I know it’s not exactly true and that I have a flair for the dramatic, but in my dark moments, when I’m sniffling or texting my woes away, I feel like a hamster in a big ass wheel. An annoying squeaky one, too.

What’s the solution?

I’m not exactly sure, but I’ve realized that mom’s have an amazing superpower that I should embrace rather than fight. It’s called “goldfish brain” and it boils down to the ability to forget the tornado that today was and start anew. Sure, tomorrow’s probably going to be another crazy day full of hiccups and stubbed toes, but if I learn to forget today’s frustrations, there’s no compounding effect. New slate. Wiped clean. Ready, and, go.

Brilliant, right?

So for all the missteps I had this week—those meeting notes I botched, the workshop I lost, the weight watcher points I didn’t track, the jiu jitsu class I skipped yesterday…I forgive myself. I forgive myself and start over tomorrow.

Hellooo, goldfish brain. Goodbye bashing my head against the closest…wait…is that a new plastic castle?


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hello, Second Grade!

I really do mean to update more. It's just that, well... I don't. True story. Ha!

Boy Wonder started second grade today. Can you believe that? It seems like just yesterday he was telling me he wanted to be a motorcycle when he grew up.

He was hiding in the closet when he didn't want to use the potty. He was dressing up in every piece of Halloween costume in a five-mile vicinity...wait, he still does that. Nevermind.

We got together this morning and assembled the team to walk him the block and a half to school. Like his own ticker-tape parade on his own very special day. Boo was thrilled to walk him to the big school until he realized we had to leave him there. Poor guy just got his big brother back and now he's got to do without him during the school day? The world's not always fair to a two year-old!

Boy Wonder is in a program where you stay with the same teacher for two years. This was supposed to be his second year with her, but she quit two days ago. The same second graders (his buddies from last year) were there waiting, but the room layout was different. The energy was different. He hesitated at the front of the room when he realized there were no more seats at the "boy table" and he had to sit with the girls.

I was worried for a split second that this may not be the most auspicious beginning to his second grade year.

And then, well, Boy Wonder relaxed. He sat next to the cute little girl who rode on the sled with him at the winter party last year (she jumped on his sled as it started down the hill at Kincaid and shocked all manner of on lookers...Boy Wonder's mama included!) and I realized all was right in Boy Wonder's world. The ladies loved him. The new teacher was young and just as excited to meet her new class as they were to meet their new teacher. And the boys were jealous that he had a table full of girls all to himself.

Crazy how life works out, isn't it?

I remember my first day of second grade. I had to get on a bus and drive all across the city of Austin to a school that sat in the middle of the worst neighborhood in the city. I was terrified and wanted nothing more than to have everything the way it was before.

I wore a red and black plaid dress with too-tight capped sleeves. (I cut them with my safety scissors when I got to school). I had uber short hair that stuck out at my temples, despite eight gallons of hairspray and all the saliva my mom could muster. (Gross, right? Me and mom/hair issues go way back. I've mentioned my fourth grade "mullet" stage numerous times.)

Second grade was infinite possibilities. It was the beginning of multiplication and the awesomeness of chapter books. Second grade introduced me to Nancy Drew and the Babysitters Club. It was the beginning of me, my own separate, living, breathing person who had to face my own fears and make my own friends. Despite how scared I was on that bus, second grade was a fantastic adventure.

I wonder what's waiting for my Boy Wonder?


Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer of 100 Books Comes to a Close

Woo hoo! We've made it, and with not much more than a few days to spare...Boy Wonder lands back home on Friday morning. Woooooot! (Can you tell we're thrilled around here?!)

It's been a fantastic summer at the Anchorage Library and I'm really happy Boo and I were able to keep it up, and even included McK in the fun the past few weeks.

We met some new favorite authors this summer and even re-read some old favorites that I remembered from growing up. We can't wait to get a new goal with Boy Wonder going in the next month or so...

So without further ado, here's the wrap up of our summer reading adventure.

Summer of 100 Books: Week the Last

92. Never Tease a Weasel
93. A Friend Like Ed
94. My Father Knows the Names of Things
95. The Magic Porridge Pot
96. There's a Wolf at the Door
97. Dog Tales
98. Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep
99. Dog Donovan
100. The Little Red Fish
101. Lulu, Boo, and Art You Can Do
102. Harold at the North Pole
103. Harold's ABC

Are you familiar with Harold and the Purple Crayon? They're a series by Crockett Johnson written in the 1950s and recently turned in to an HBO series a few years ago (when Boy Wonder was a toddler.) He's a kid with a great imagination, a purple crayon, and a bit of insomnia. Check out the books and the videos if you get the chance.

Happy reading and happy back to school to all our friends!


Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Curious Case of Incoherent Babbling

I love being an adult...I really do.

While marathon "Bob the Builder" stints are de-facto around here and I don't really mind, the chance to actually run a brush through the ol' mane and wipe the crusted mascara from underneath my eyes every now and then is something that gets the ol' blood flowing.

I had a chance to go to a fancy restaurant this week and talk tech. No, really. I was contacted through my food blog to perchance cover a new wine application this great business had developed, and with P's blessing, I jumped at the chance. Nay, I threw myself head first at the opportunity to put on pants with no elastic and an unstained shirt.

The only problem was that I hadn't had much time to practice my "adult conversing" skills. Most of my daytime talk includes "No!" or "Get offa that!" or "I swear to God, Boo...". When P and I get the chance to get a few sentences in undisturbed, it's usually centered around jiu jitsu or MMA and contains more than one "F bomb" or off-color remark. Not exactly the sort of small talk one makes over the top of a fancy wine glass.

That night, I was talking to one of the place's managers and he asked the innocent enough leading question "so where else do you and your husband like to eat in Anchorage?"


Visions of the occasional Happy Meal flashed before my eyes.

No, that doesn't count, does it? What about the chinese take out we get from Panda? That's a real restaurant, right? Would I sound like a moron if I waxed poetic about the delicious zinfandel I drank last month with the greasy fried rice and hunks of mystery meat?

I was stumped for about three minutes, honest. I finally remembered a joint I'd covered for the newspaper (yeah, remember that job I had FIVE years ago??) and spit it out. Too bad, I learned, it had closed last summer.

I stood, slack jawed and staring into the left corner of the tiny room while my brain searched for an eating establishment P and I enjoyed that did not feature a color-on kids menu or waiters that 't sing birthday songs off key if requested. I had nothing.

My new friend mercifully guided the subject to the only thing I'm able to converse about lately: my kids. I regaled him with tales of wrestling tournaments, first "bad" words, and endless diapers.

But I drove home with that sinking feeling: when had I turned into uber mommy who only spoke the language of the sleep-deprived and developmental milestone obsessed?

And then I got home. And the husband was happy to see me and told me all about his night at MMA. And the baby was wiggly and smelled like that pink baby lotion. And the toddler had cried without me that night, and while that's not's always nice to know when you're missed. To the point of tears. Awwwwww, right?

Lucky for me, the tribe whose language I've adopted is an adorable one. Who can argue when you're fluent in cuddly baby and precocious two year old? When you can still enthrall a seven year old? When you're husband talks shop with you and you can keep up?

Not I, my friend.

Not I.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Summer of 100 Books: The Sheep on a Mission Edition

I rhymed in my headline on purpose. You'd understand if you were a connoisseur of the "Sheep in a Jeep" series by Nancy Shaw, which by now, we are.

Boy Wonder read the original "Sheep in a Jeep" sometime last year and we loved it. Little did we know our enterprising wool bags went on a hike, went to a shop, went out to eat, and even went to sea. They're amazing sheep, really, with the amount of destruction they can muster in search of a birthday present or even lunch (which turns out to be the restaurant's front lawn.)

There's a few lessons and activities you can incorporate to the books, including recognizing the rhyming patterns (they are aplenty!) and bringing in circular activities like learning about real sheep. Here are a few links:

A to Z teacher stuff: Sheep in a Jeep activities Sheep in a Jeep Lesson Ideas
Sheep in a Jeep Coloring Page

As far as our Summer of 100 Books count, we are in the home stretch and will probably sail past the 100 mark today. I haven't logged our books since before McK was born, so I have a few week's worth of updates. Bear with me...we've done a lot of reading together, and with P's mom in town, Boo has had lots of awesome "Gammies" time with the books, too!

I've included links to more information on a few of our favorites. Read on!

Summer of 100 Books

66. Saint Francis and the Wolf
67. Delicious
68. Slim and Jim
69. The Carrot Seed
70. Can You Find Color?
71. Meal Time
72. Dinosaur Chase
73. Cowboy Bunnies
74. Noisy Barn!
75. When Mama Comes Home Tonight
76. One Red Sun
77. Clip-Clop
78. Click, Clack, 123
79. Off We Go!
80. Julius' Candy Corn
81. Three Billy Goats Gruff
82. Cows in the Kitchen
83. Hop!
84. Eight Animals Bake a Cake
85. How do Dinosaurs Say I love you?
86. Sheep in a Shop
87. Sheep in a Jeep
88. Sheep out to Eat
89. Sheep Take a Hike
90. Elephants Cannot Dance! (Another fabulous one by Mo Willems)
91. I Went Walking

We are so close! (And today happens to be another library day, so we'll get there before sundown, I'm sure.)

Happy reading...


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer of the Wild Gorilla Boy

Do you remember that towheaded toddler from about three and a half weeks ago?

The one who would accompany me to the library three times a week and carry books to the car? Would bake cookies with me and swipe chocolate chips and batter when I wasn't looking? The very same who began sleeping 12 hour stretches and woke up bright eyed and smiling?

He's still around, to be sure, but it seems that he morphs into a young mountain gorilla at certain points in the day. (Lots and lots of points in the day, actually...)

Our sweet tempered Boo loves his sister...I swear he does! He browbeats preschoolers at the library who get too close to her stroller. He swats flies that land near her saying "go away FLY! not my baby sister!" He never misses her baths or a chance to wring a wash cloth in her eye.

But since the Sunday evening we brought McK home, the boy has shown certain silverback tendencies I've never seen in him before. If he were to climb the tree out back and start pounding his chest and screeching in a terrifying low gorilla yell, I'd not be surprised. Much.

To date, I've had "NOOOO!" shouted at me at least 3,423 times. I've been spit on (yes, actual mouth driven, icky boy spit) six or seven. He's rocketed me in the head with a water bottle, kicked me in the face when we were all lying on the floor relaxing, and launched a hotwheels at me more times than I can count.

Daddy's threats of "whoopins" are met with a laugh (and maybe another spit). The actual spankings that used to keep Boy Wonder in line (with the mere THREAT of one) do nothing. I swear to God, the boy actually chuckles when you swat his butt in spite of you.

And poor baby sister. In her short three weeks, she's been sniped by a Yoda happy meal toy (don't you dare judge me...), swiffered one or two times when big brother Boo thinks she "looks dirty", been drenched by a soaked washcloth during her bathtimes when big brother helps, had half her face brushed off by the soft bristled weapon Boo found in her toiletry basket, had a bottle nozzle shoved halfway up her nose ("she's hungry") and had her pacifiers and blankets stolen and tossed over the railing once or twice.

Anymore of this sibling affection, and McK is going to be cage-rage ready before preschool...we were hoping for a tough little girl, but neither P or I put in an order for the Terminator and that's just where we're headed if she's raised among the gorilla boys at this rate.

Don't get me wrong, we see enough of our "sweet angel boy" each day to avoid locking him on the back patio over's just that the more stressful times seemed to have come out of nowhere and have me wondering what Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey might have suggested as a way to restore the regain balance and order. To save my sanity.

Tranquilizer dart, anyone?


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Be Your Own Preschool: Introductions and Early Ideas

A glimpse inside our madness

I should start with a snapshot of our house as it is right now.

We have a brand new baby that has taken any shred we might have had that resembled a schedule and imposed herself (rightfully so) upon it. We have a two-year-old caught somewhere between the new baby sister and two tired, busy parents. He's acting out. And at the same time, he's smack dab in the middle of an incredible brain and body growth spurt that we're going to let slip past if we're not careful.

If things work out this fall, our family will be in a new position for us. I'll be able to stay home two days a week and work a more flexible, part time schedule. P will be in school the two days a week that I am home and working in the evenings. Our kids will be with us and not in daycare. It's a wonderful thing, no?

But it also poses the challenge for us to be Boo and McK's first teachers. With Boy Wonder, I was on my own and sent him to daycare from the sixth week (sigh). But along the way, he had a number of fantastic preschool classroom experiences that laid a great foundation for him when it came time to start school.

P and I were shocked at his kindergarten screening to hear a little boy that would be in his class unable to count to five or recite his alphabet past the first six or so letters. Some kids just don't get the foundation that preschool environments offer. And with us being home with the two younger ones this year, I figured we had the opportunity to "be our own preschool" and I set to the library to learn as much as I could about age-appropriate activities and how children learn in these early years.

Just who are we dealing with?

Guess what? Kids are fascinating. Here is a little of what I learned about Boo's age group:
  • they are prime for memorization (something Boo can do in minutes, as long as it's a Black Eyed Pea song)
  • they value conversation more and more and begin to participate in back and forth exchanges
  • they need lots of praise and encouragement as they venture further and further out from their comfort zone
  • they are natural explorers
  • they seek strong gross motor activities as their coordination improves (movement is vital to this age!)
  • they love and rely on schedules
As I pored over the learning and early education books I found (and our library has a treasure trove of them available!), ideas began to take shape about what our days will begin to look like as we mold our time away from television and other media-driven activities toward the learning adventures Boo (and soon McK) craves.

Two warring theories that will make nice in our house

In my reading, I came across two very fascinating books that, at first glance, seem to offer contradictory theories. But I see the logic in both and as such, both will find a place in our logic and thinking.

The first idea is centered around the importance of free play from "Einstein Never Used Flashcards" by Kathy Hirsh Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. The essentials I took away were:

  • children will learn best when you play with them
  • the goal should be to learn in context of an activity, not through rote memorization
  • educational toys are essentially pointless, while everyday objects will teach everyday, essential lessons
Brilliant, right?

On the other hand, two books about raising lifelong readers caught my attention and had TONS of practical, fun activities that might seem a little too structured for the Einstein group. But I like them.

"Raising Confident Readers" by J. Richard Gentry and "How to Make Your Child a Reader for Life" by Paul Kropp offered great learning games and ideas, along with some frightening facts, including:

% of 4th graders who read for pleasure every day: 45.7
% of 12th graders who read for pleasure every day: 24.4
% of 4th graders who use a library once a week: 59
% of 12th graders who use a library once a week: 10.2

Among 8th graders, 71% watch three or more hours of television per day, while only 27% will read for pleasure daily.

And finally, in Boy Wonder's age group (6-11), the number of hours per week watched: 10.9 with 2 hours of video game time thrown in for good measure. Number of murders a child will see before the end of grade school? More than 8,000.

I was floored. And determined that learning to read was going to happen early and often and that some of their suggestions would be hammered into my brain and daily schedule no matter what.

A few starter suggestions?
  • read to your child every day
  • provide books for your children and they'll turn into their favorite stories that they'll memorize and "practice" reading in the near future
  • limit exposure to media whenever possible
I've only just begun this journey of developing our own preschool-esqe environment in our day-to-day life. As far as I can tell, it's going to be a work in progress that will change as we do and adapt to our kids' interests and emerging abilities. But so far, a few guildelins I'm developing to help include:

Get thee a few resources
Again, I cannot state how helpful our library has been. The early literacy section has walls and walls of books that teach you all about classroom environments, curriculum ideas, learning strategies, creativity sparks, etc. And they're free. And when you're working reduced hours like I am, that's essential.

Develop a plan
Hard, solid schedules may sound too harsh and usually are. But we allocate time each day for specific pursuits, be it art, outside playtime at the park, science experiments, number drawing, etc.

Find a tribe
One of the greatest things the daycares and preschools that Boy Wonder attended gave him was socialization. The kid can make friends in any situation these days and is NEVER shy. That's missing when you take outside caregivers out of the equation, but it is so essential for children to learn social situations and cues from other kids. Find a mother/tot playgroups, church groups, folks at the local playground, etc. They are out there. You should find them.

Think about your own strengths and what you can provide your child with. Are you a natural born artists? Does your family love astronomy? Incorporate what you like, what your talents are, and what's important to your family into the learning process and let your tots feel like integral parts of the equation. At our place, P is working toward his engineering degree and loves numbers. I love creative pursuits like art and writing. We go with what we're good at and eventually, it will all fall into place.

In the next few weeks, we'll be exploring more topics in depth with project ideas and teaching philosophies. A resource page will be up soon, too.

Happy learning!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Patron Verse of Parenthood

"We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."
1 Corinthians 15.51


Monday, July 4, 2011

The Lonely Hours

Makenna and I have been sleeping in the living room for the past seven or eight nights.

It's not that I don't miss my sweet husband, or my bed, or my little nook of books downstairs. It's just this weird fear that keeps me on the couch and baby girl in her Moses basket.

Ever since I can remember, I've been a terrible sleeper. I walk in my sleep, hold the most random, confusing conversations in my sleep with my poor husband, I constantly wake up and look around, confused. And from this inability to stay asleep continuously, I've come to realize the fear I have of being the only person awake in a house of sleeping people.

Oh, sure, when I am writing or tinkering, I don't mind being awake by myself. But when I am tired and want nothing more than to drift back asleep, knowing I am there by myself in the dark is actually pretty frightening to me. Weird, isn't it?

So during these tough first weeks when the baby has such odd overnight hours and can't be depended on to fall right back asleep after eating, well, I find weird solace in the overnight court shows our antenna can pick up. And the 24-hour news channel from France with British telecasters. (It's fun to think of how it's really mid-afternoon where they are and there's a whole world alive and moving somewhere out there).

Every night when P goes down to bed, I tell myself that tonight is the last night I'm sleeping upstairs. And then the witching hour strikes and Makenna and I are awake and struggling to get back to sleep and I am grateful for the background noise on television...even if it is some comical televangelist praying for my soul and extolling the good they'll do around the world with my contribution.

And every night, when I think about finally heading downstairs to my bed, the memory of the lonely hour grips me and I hide under the John Deere blanket for one more night.

Just one more night...


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hello, Makenna!

She's here...she's finally here! After what felt like 78 weeks of gestation (I know, I know, it was only 40!), Makenna Elyse arrived last Friday (June 24) at a dainty 8 lbs 11 oz.


We were stuck a few days in the hospital with her, which completely spit in the face of everything I had planned. This was baby three for us...we're old hat at this game and there's no reason we can't take her home at the first possible second, right? Right? (crickets).

But we finally did manage to get her home and we've got the rest of the summer to get to know this little heartbreaker.

Big brother Boo is adjusting to life as the "middle man" now, and while he ADORES his little sister (he calls her "Fo-kenna") and dotes on her like a little mini protector...the guy has gone from love of our lives (last week) to terror on the high seas with a mindset to destroy his father and I. I'm not sure where this animosity and badness came from (I'm sure the changes have everything to do with it) but I sure miss my little Boo. I know, I bet he misses being the baby and absorbing ALL of the attention in the house.

Between being chained to a couch during marathon feedings and general fussy baby business and trying to threaten the toddler within inches of his life if he doesn't stop pulling the cat's tail (with no ability to jump up and make good on said threats), I'm exhausted and often frustrated. Dare I admit it...cranky, even?

But this life (these lives) are gifts and we've been blessed beyond a reason why. I will never, ever, EVER let that slip my mind. God has definitely graced me with more than I'll ever deserve.

Here's to a few more sleepless nights and a lifetime of love and joy.