The Good, the Bad, and the Sweet

When the temperature dips every fall, such as it has, I pull out the jackets that I didn’t wear through the summer. There is always one, without fail, with half a sugar packet in the pocket, almost always on the right side. The sugar packet is from our little grocery store, where customers are encouraged to sample the hot coffee. I fear the caffeine and sugar are just as much a draw for me as the hobnobbing. With a 4 oz. sample cup of coffee, I only use half a sugar packet at a time. (I have to say here how amazed I am at this small amount of sugar compared to the liquid candy I drank in college.) Maybe I should mention that I do enjoy 3 samples each shopping trip. Maybe I shouldn’t. Saying this does make me less judgmental of the rare customer who fills up her portable mug. She’s probably spent a small fortune on groceries and feels she’s earned it. With the leftover packet, I fold the paper down twice and save the sugar for later.

If the paper comes unfolded inside my pocket, I may reach in and dip my fingers into a pile of sugar. It’s a small mess to clean up for the satisfaction that a habit of frugality brings me. But I’m afraid one day I’ll die and someone will find me in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, melted into a pool of sugar. No need for cremation. Scoop up 4 oz. of me in a biodegradable cup and sing me on my way. What’s in the pockets of your autumn jackets?

Woolf and Her Slapdash Diary

Woolf is eloquent even in criticizing the sloppiness of her diary.

“I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better; and take no time over this; and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it.”

Then she builds up her confidence and gives us good advice for our creativity.

“And now I may add my little compliment to the effect that it has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull’s eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.”

This last sentence makes me sad-

“I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea.”

as I recently gave up tea :( .

The Sold Project Update

Since The Sold Project began 4 1/2 years ago, their scholarship program to keep girls in Thailand out of prostitution has grown to 120 students! These are girls who could not have afforded the cost of school otherwise, and because girls in Thailand are expected from an early age to earn money for their families, these sponsored students would likely have left their villages, gone into the city, and prostituted themselves in “restaurants”.

Since I learned about Sold this last Spring, it is noticeably growing. Sold is competing, along with 68 other organizations, in The Girl Effect, a month-long campaign in November to earn a one-year spot on the Girl Effect fundraising page on At the end of November, the 6 projects with the highest number of unique donors win a spot to take part in The Girl Effect. The Sold Project’s goal is to get 1000 donors. Securing a spot at Global Giving could mean amazing growth for Sold in the next year.

You can learn more on Sold’s homepage at There are so many good non-profits in the world that have to vie for our money. We cannot give to every one that needs us. We all have to find the cause that moves us. In the news headlines I read from sites around the world, child abuse is one that weighs on my heart, as children are the most vulnerable, innocent, and exploitable targets. Child abuse comes in different ways and varying degrees. Child prostitution is preventable, by fighting the poverty that drives them to it.

“What is the difference between a child trafficked into a brothel, held there by a trafficker, and a child selling sex on the streets, held there by poverty? The difference is that we can point our finger at the trafficker, but poverty is the fault of all humanity. To the child, there is no difference.” Rachel Goble

Choate Garden of California, East Bay

We bought our home a year ago. Three children and 1,400 square feet of house are not enough to most people in the Tri-Valley, but I never wanted a big house. A big house is more to clean, I said. Brad and I lived around the country in 6 other homes before we bought in California. In each apartment or house, the first months seemed perfectly furnished with space enough to move around comfortably, but the effects and luggage of life will creep in to every corner of a home. After a year or more, furniture and possessions line the walls until either the buying stops or the Salvation Army is called for pickup. We bought a small house not because we couldn’t afford more, but because we found the right one.

With large, South-facing windows, vaulted ceilings both down and upstairs, and an open floor plan, we have the light and air we wanted and actually, the illusion of more space than there really is. The last house was a cave where dust and grime could hide from my weak eyes. Because of the light here, I’ve never had a cleaner house.

By Christmas, I decided the pretty light of this house needed some singing birds, so I brought home two parakeets for our children to name, Baby and Spirit. This was out of character for me. I don’t like animals in the house. And the kids’ faces were completely blank when I walked through the door with them. Brad and Seth have taken to the birds the best, taming them. I trim their wings. But the birds sing with all kinds of sounds, They start squawking if the kids get rowdy, if I turn the kitchen tap on full blast, or open a noisy bag of chips. They like Sinead O’Connor and Cary Ann Hearst. Best of all, ever since watching A Dolphin Tale, they make the distinct chirp of a dolphin. Every day we hear them duplicate my iPad’s 3-note alarm. Their tone is perfect.

I open the window so the birds look out on the garden. The previous owner worked in his garden every day. The garden is largely why we bought the house. It’s a substantial size for a small house in an East Bay suburb. We said it would be our 2nd living room. We have 5 redwoods, a birch tree, bamboo, apple, peach, fig, plum, orange, and 2 large lava rocks.

But the weeds… Oh my word, the weeds! I had no idea the weed pit I would find! None of our other properties were like this. I do not remember weeds in Arkansas. The grass grew. My tulips, tiger lilies, hostas, and roses were beautiful, but I don’t remember pulling weeds. In Connecticut, we lived in the woods. The lawn was cut. Beyond that, the dense thicket belonged to the bugs. Two of our children were treated for lyme disease in the 5 years we lived there. Again, no memory of weeds. In CT, it was the snow shoveling that kept us busy. That is, it kept Brad busy. I was pregnant and/or nursing the entire time we lived there.

Two weeks ago, I met a weed that was stronger than I was, and I can workout like a demon, doing squats and jumping jacks like mad if I feel like showing off. I decided then, the world belongs to the weeds.

But in the first week of meeting our neighbors last summer, four of them pointed out what a pretty garden the previous owner kept. They sound very nice when they say this, but I’m hearing, “You need to keep it nice.” I’ve tried. We want to keep up the yard ourselves, but raking redwood needles and pulling weeds is not gardening. It’s just clean-up. We’ve had no time for gardening. We’ll probably hire someone this fall for the clean-up. This is a failure to me. My people don’t hire others to do the back work. Where’s the pride in that? We come from farmers and gardeners. Who doesn’t, right? But in the recent past, we come from agricultural people in Arkansas and Mississippi where a family’s garden is like a small farm to a suburban Californian.

I have yanked some ugly succulents out of the ground, half dead, prickly beasts. I never liked poky, spiky plants. Give me foxgloves, clover, and a glossy ivy. It is very slow though, building a garden, even one that’s established. Making it mine means digging up and planting more. We have several places to sit in the garden. I drink my tea of a morning out there. It’s only in the garden, the second living room, that I can hear the whole conversation between our little birds and the wild birds. To enjoy the idleness I have to ignore the garden work I see in my future. There I can read most of an essay or a short story before a child finds me to show me her dragon eggs and teach me dragon speak.

Loco Moco

The first meal my husband and I had in Hawaii this June was a popular dish called Loco Moco. It is typically a mound of rice with hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy. The Big Island Grill is not far from the Kona airport, conveniently for hungry people, and we could order one Loco Moco big enough to share with a choice of meats to go on it. Our version was a mound of rice topped with pork chops, hamburger patty, and fried eggs, (and oddly 3 battered and fried shrimp on the side). The dish is topped with brown gravy. The waitress asked if we wanted the gravy on the side. I wondered to myself if tourists liked it on the side and why, as I’m sure she sized us up as tourists. But I said, “Just however you usually serve it.” She nodded as if I’d made her happy and maybe elevated my standing as a slightly better tourist than most.

It looked really bad when she brought it, very dark brown gravy covered every bit of the food. But not everyone on yelp would be lying when they say how good it is. I’m ok with things that look bad, as long as they taste really good.

It did. It was delicious. To be precise, it tasted like my childhood. There is something my mother made, pork and brown gravy on top of sticky rice. (We’d use the leftover plain rice the next day to make a hot cereal of rice, milk, butter, and sugar. Yum! Another taste of childhood.) Brad and I left some rice, but it was tempting to finish it because it’s the rice that scoops up the gravy so nicely!

Last week I tried the Trader Joe’s demo, and I tasted my childhood again. They combined chili and mac and cheese. I don’t remember my mother mixing them, I must’ve eaten them together on one plate enough that the association was immediate. I thought my children might like it, especially by telling them it tasted like my children. They’re sympathetic sometimes like that. Savannah loved it. Seth hated it. Arwen didn’t say anything but ate it to get dessert.

We told Seth if he wanted his cereal before bed, he’d have to finish it. He was super mopey which hasn’t worked on me in so long, it’s laughable that he would try that. I disappeared for a bit to my desk in another room. After Brad joined me, Seth was suddenly done with his supper. His pride waits for everyone to clear the room. Who knows what he really thinks of his food. They don’t have to love the food I love. Never yuck someone else’s yum, I say. I just hope his memories of eating are not eating mopey and alone.

I have a friend who compiled the best childhood memories of her friends. She asked me what I thought the most common memory included, and I guessed right because it was mine too, picking and eating blackberries. I have others, hot dog and bun topped with so much chili we had to use a fork, garden tomatoes with table salt eaten like an apple over the plate. A delicious mess! Peanut butter and syrup sandwiches, my mother’s Duncan Hines boxed marble cakes with a warm mixture of milk, sugar, and butter poured over and soaked in.

I’m also collecting favorite childhood memories, whether they involve food or not.


If you like books, the hardcopy kind with pages that turn, and you’re paying half a mind’s attention to the changes in trying to sell information, you can see that libraries and bookstores will have to change to survive. When telelvision became the norm for collecting news, people said radio would die. It hasn’t. It’s just changed. Television isn’t dying, but it’s changing. (I love that we’re in the middle of this change to witness how it’s morphing.)

But how do bookstores stay unique? I’m just actively starting to care about this question, so I really am asking. Take the bookstore in Madison, CT, RJ Julia, one of the most successful and respected independent booksellers in the world. In the time it takes for a slow barrista to pull a long shot, the Espresso Book Machine is the only thing of its kind on the retail level. It produces great color quality with the cover on the spot when the customer wants it. (The “Espresso” name is just goofy enough I keep thinking someone’s gong to tell me they saw this on The Onion. But as I haven’t had a comment since 2009, I might welcome the correction.) I call it a modern robot. Probably a few old-world bookbinders who’d like to curb stomp it.

I loved a little dive in Austin, TX called 12th Street Books, born in 1992. To a big college town, they offered a good sized used selection of books for such a small space with a tiny but well-run espresso bar and pastry case. Somehow they squeezed in easy chairs too. A real claustrophobe would’ve hated it! But I loved it if I didn’t think about the book dust I was breathing in. It’s not only still there, it’s recently remodeled and reinvented as an antiquarian bookstore specializing in literary first editions, small-press, and finer bindings. It’s the only one of its kind in Austin.

My area now has the only one of it’s kind. It’s brand new, and though this is a very precarious time to start a new business when people are even saying no to Girl Scouts, it has great potential. The books are new and 1/2 price. Named Giant Book Sale, the new owner bought all the remaining equipment from Borders which had last occupied that space. The twist is in the cafe. Run by a Latino couple who have been teaching after-school programs for several years, John Paul and Lucy Lepeley offer daily guitar and piano lessons in the afternoons. They also teach art and tutoring sessions. You can even sign up for salsa lessons. Their cafe space is generous for movie nights, toddler readings, study groups and book clubs. They’re in a good location by well known stores, namely, Sports Chalet and Kohl’s on Rosewood Avenue in in the center of Pleasanton. Better yet, it’s locally owned.

I am watching how this business play out. I hope it succeeds, and becomes a place we can return to as we’re raising our children and bringing our friends.

When fewer people are flooding an industry with job applications pursuing work in what was a much bigger industry 10 years ago, looks to me like that industry would draw the real talented people who love it. People who are in it for more than money, and sticking around for the long haul. I like that. I like being with people like that. Instead of competing with other people looking to make a fortune in money, let’s compete with other people who want to make a fortune in good quality.

For Future Learning

I regret not appreciating my education while it lasted. (Especially considering how much I romanticize university life. Love those ivy league movies.) I regret not telling Amber to get away from Alan sooner. I reget not helping my mother quit smoking. I knew when she tucked her astrays in the drawer that she would not quit. If she really meant to stop the habit, why did she keep them at all? She put them away clean in our second junk drawer. It wasn’t the junky junk drawer either. They were tucked in with the neater junk. She was smart about it too. Her quitting came out of nowhere. She’d never indicated before that she wanted to stop smoking. She didn’t want to give her daughters the floor to nag her about it. She lasted a week without a cigarette. I should’ve said, “Mom, wean yourself. You’ve gone 2 days? Go light up on the patio. Then don’t have another for two days. Do some push-ups, for God’s sake. Go for a walk with me around the neighborhood. We’ll carry rocks to toss at stray dogs…”


I wanted to do martial arts when I was 14. We had no money for it. I started tae kwon do in April of 2010. It replaced my regular gym membership which I couldn’t stand anyway.

My migraines are gone. By the time I added a third and fourth martial arts class a week, I stopped having that headache every two days out of the month. Never laid up in bed anymore! I haven’t had a migraine since August of 2010 :)

There are other things I’ve learned that I never could’ve guessed. They seem like small lessons, but they’re not, once I saw how well they’re applied to other walks of life.

First, I didn’t think I needed compliments. I thought I was above that. Needing compliments seemed… kinda needy. In the beginning, there were times I left class feeling like the whole night was a failure. (Always worse at night I should say, maybe because of fatigue?) This was especially true in classes when I tried a technique for the first time. Then I had a night or two that when trying something new, I had a word of encouragement or a small compliment, and I left the studio feeling so much better about looking like a dork!

Secondly, I feel the same way if I can train beside people who are light-hearted or at least willing to make eye contact. I have the most fun when my classmates and I can make fun of ourselves and laugh a little. The fuddy duddies who won’t look me in the eye bring the mood down fast. Not sure how to reach those people.

Thirdly, I see a leap in progress after I get away from the training for a while. When the studio is closed for Christmas break, I don’t work out nearly as much. I might practice tkd at home or do yoga. When we travel and visit with family, we think and do entirely different things then we usually would. When I get back to class, something always seems a bit different. My balance is better or a certain kick is more controlled. Just like studying for a test plants seeds, you still need to sleep in order for the understanding to grow roots. People who study all night don’t test as well as those who sleep on what they’ve read. (I already knew several years ago that travelling gets me out of a stressful situation, out of the habits of my obsessions, and I come home understanding better that time passes and solutions present themselves. Or maybe the problem just goes away.) Getting away from the training floor lets the muscle memory take root. Then I’m better at giving attention to other things that need work.

Also, just like I can’t do math in front of others, memorizing the tae kwon do forms has been difficult to do in front of people, especially when it’s a very small class. The fewer students in class, the more attention I get, then the more self-conscious I am. One day a year ago, it was just me, the teacher, and one other student in class. I had a lot of trouble remembering anything of the form I was told. I went into the bathroom, did the form one time, and I had it :) Likewise, working on techniques at home and especially yelling with the k’ihap as aggressively as I should, I go back to class noticeably better. The k’ihap creates its power through confidence, confidence that often needs to be found in private. When that happened, y’all should’a seen how much my hook kick improved.

The last lesson, for now, is in my emotional reactions to these challenges. I had a bad day a week ago. I have been very run down. Starting a swimming class has given me one more source of anxiety. I am respectfully afraid of the water. I can swim, but I’m certainly not used to it, and it’s very tiring to start a new sport like swimming. Learning new things makes people wake up more in the worry hours of the night, so people lose sleep. Also, I’ve been feeling anemic off and on for three months. My diet had gotten really predictable eating the same 10 foods for the last year. With the bad nutrition, I was dragging myself out of classes, sometimes 7 hours of workouts a week. So last Thursday when I got kicked in the shin, I felt it down inside the bone. I had already forced myself not to cry earlier in the hour as I had other things on my mind and was feeling really emotional. I have tried to give myself permission to cry in these situations, but then I’d have to kill everyone in the room, and it wouldn’t be easy. So I control it. I’ve felt this emotion in class when I first started 2 years ago, and from what I learned the first time through it, it means I’m about to make progress.

Having said all that, I’m on a short break from tkd to focus on Krav Maga, taking supplements, and eating much better. (There is a ridiculous amount of iron in blackstrap molasses.) I plan on going through the basic Krav testing in April. After that, I’ll return to tkd.

Gravity is going to win.

The left side of my face is aging faster than the right. I’m wondering why my right side is still smooth, and I remember how weak my right eye has been since birth. I peer at people out of my left eye far more than my right. Maybe the left side is over-worked.

I only see my sister once a year. Two years ago, Christmas, she said I hadn’t aged in the last year. She claims she can tell, when she hasn’t seen someone in a while, if they’ve aged. It was a nice compliment. Though before she said that I hadn’t thought about it much.

If I smile more, it will slowly make the laugh lines deeper, but hides them at the same time! I won’t get “home” this year for Christmas, so it’ll have been two years by the time my sister sees me again. I wonder if she’ll say anything. Maybe I can smile the entire visit.

Krav Maga

We’ve just bought a house on a corner lot. It’s pretty and trim with cobblestones, roses, and birch trees. Children come and go to the park and school. I felt so outgoing in July! I wanted to open the door more, rather than ignoring the bell because of so many salesmen. I must’ve been caught up in a very optimistic, verbal moment. I’d probably had caffeine. I tend toward moodiness.

But corner lots have a reputation for being broken into more, easy access. I can still say no to salesmen like nobody else and be super nice. I simply feel safer not opening the door. Neighbors who are smart enough will let me see them from the kitchen window.

I started self defense classes with my children a year and a half ago. We are not mean fighting machines, but being immersed in the lingo of safety, being told again and again the importance of a quick reaction, what mean people might do, and what you on the defense need to do before you run, it stays at the front of your mind. If I took a job selling insurance, the lingo of worth and replacement value of property would stay on my mind. I’d see the need for insurance everywhere. But how boring that would be!

Krav Maga “was derived from street-fighting skills developed by Imi Lichtenfeld, who made use of his training as a boxer and wrestler, as a means of defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Bratislava[3] in the mid- to late-1930s. In the late-1940s, following his immigration to Israel, he began to provide hand-to-hand combat training to what was to become the IDF, who went on to develop the system that became known as Krav Maga. It has since been refined for civilian, police and military applications.[4]” Wikipedia

I’ve never been victimized. Bullied yes, usually by men in their 50s and 60s (1) in grocery store parking lots. They don’t get enough respect in real life, so they bark at me to slow down or put my cart up, never when my husband is with me of course. Used to, it didn’t feel like a physical threat, maybe I should’ve thought of it that way all along though. The turning point for me in seeking out self defense was having three children, getting a few years closer to their leaving home, and realizing that these are multi-layered skills I can give them. It’s confidence that spreads to every corner of your life.

Having said all that, we live in paradise. I read the police log which is mostly a peppering of burglaries that sound to me like inside jobs. Who pays $18,000 for a ring? I come from a mean town though, overrun with meth when I left in ‘97. Not sure what the drug-of-choice is these days. From the movies, it looks like prescription pills. As for paradise, who knows where in the world our children will go?

For more about Krav Maga.

1) I’m convinced these same men are who my curvy girlfriend says act like idiots to get her attention. Always at the gas pump. They say ridiculous things and make snorty laughter to get her to notice them. We compare stories. I get mad, and she has a laugh.

Monkeys like to scratch.

Arwen and Savannah and I were in Arwen's room cleaning up and visiting. Arwen had her back to Savannah a couple of feet away, so when Arwen began to give a good, hearty scratch on her rear-end, Savannah feigned an uppity disgust for Arwen's bad manners.

Of course, Arwen had a good laugh and scratched more enthusiastically. I asked Arwen, "Are you a monkey?"

"Yeah, I'm a monkey." She likes to use my Southern accent to be funny. Keep close to your roots, I say.

"Hey!" Arwen said, "I was born in the year of the monkey!" More laughter, more scratching.

Stuff too long to tweet

At family camp this October. Seth: "Isn't this interesting. We went on a hike and ended up at a yoga class. Isn't that original."


Seth: "If skipping hadn't been invented, I'd invent it, and I would rule the world."


Seth: "When people are sad in movies, they sit on the roof." ... "I wanna sit on the roof."
Me: "Oh, are you sad?"
Savannah: "No. He just wants to sit on the roof."



Arwen: "I wonder about the future. Is the future real?"
Me: "Yes."
Arwen: "How do you know?"
Me: "It's real in your mind."
Arwen: "Maybe it's heaven."

If I were a hobo…

Children are not allowed in the front seat like they were when I was little. Because a short stature slips out of the seat belt and because of too many deaths by air bag, children these days wait 'til they're heavier and longer. I wasn't certain that this was recommended or compulsory by the state. And there's a noticeable lack of information on the internet.

Savannah's been begging to get up front. I'd heard of an 80 lb. minimum, and she's still 78. I do want to keep her safe. But since I knew the chances of her getting hurt up front were really slim, I was actually insisting she wait because I didn't want her invading my space. Georgia-land is another universe where all my moods can roller coaster without anyone else's getting in the way. The music and the cup-holders are mine. But mostly I didn't want her to catch me talking to myself.

Then our neighbor said the minimum is 60 lbs; since I don't have a huge resolve on non-moral issues, I said ok. Y'all can imagine how stoked she is to sit up front. She drops these hints into her psyche about college life, her dream home, and marriage. Her toothbrush keeps appearing with mine and Brad's in our faux-vintage toothbrush holder, etc... She wants to be an adult. When she doesn't have a girlfriend with her at group gatherings, she shadows me, waiting for me to slip and say something I'd only say to other grown women.

She sat up front on a 3 hour trip to our friends in Santa Margarita. She made me nervous for the first hour. Asking me quesitons, I'd suddenly realize that I hadn't been focused on the road. If I'd tail-gated anyone, and they'd stopped short, it could've been bad. That was about 2 weeks ago.

Not only have I gotten more used to it, but I've realized that Brad's prediction was right. She and I talk more. Of course I knew this. But now I know what it really means. She not only shares more of herself, but I have a captive audience! I have one of my proteges belted in beside me. I can tell her how if people would just stand up straight, they'd take 5 pounds off the gut. (She says, "So when I slump, I'm really 83 lbs.?" I say, "No, no, no. Visually.") I can tell her that if she meets a boy, and his father isn't very nice to his mother, stay away from him! Or that even at 35, even I don't know which strangers I can trust.

Shortly, she'll have to take turns with Seth and Arwen for the front seat, which means another fight. Anything of value to children can be used as leverage to get good behavior. So there'll still be times that I can sit alone up front and talk to myself.

Things that Savannah has said lately, "If I were a hobo, I'd come to Trader Joe's all the time, for the samples."

...a week passes...

"If I were a hobo, I'd go to Safeway for dessert, for the free cookie."

Arwen’s conversation with Arwen in the mirror

I sat at my desk overhearing a conversation (behind me) that Arwen had with herself in the mirror. Most of it I couldn't make out, as she whispered the whole thing.

"You're copying me, no you're copying me.... always causing.... looking in the mirror..."

spitting, grunting, slow motion vocal noises

I hope Arwen is always this sincere.

My mother no longer had a use for the matching canisters that she used when I was growing up. So I claimed them! In shipping them last week, she nested them together in the box, with their lids, as they're different sizes. Before everyone came home from school, I took them out as I'd found them and left them sitting on the table.

Later, while I was at my desk, I heard Arwen at the table. She picked up the biggest lid and said, "Huh?" Picked up lid #2 and said, "Huh?" Picked up lid number #3 and said, "Huh?" After the 4th, she put them back together and walked away satisfied.


The children's bathroom has a troublesome toilet, that is, Seth stores his movements and only lets them out every other day. It seems to work ok for Seth's system, but not the plumbing!

Arwen on the other hand poops like a rabbit. Well, she used to. When it got stopped up three days ago, Arwen was the last one who'd gone, but when I suggested this, she became agitated, "No! It wasn't me!" I said again that she was the last one who'd gone. I was not angry about it. She was not in trouble. It's not her fault she's growing and eating and the pipes aren't big enough! But she wouldn't have it. Refused to concede. I could tell, the clean and proper lady in her was insulted! The Peanut stopping up the toilet was unthinkable! If I had pressed the issue, she may have denied ever having pooped in her life.

To me, sincerity means letting people see your flaws, your confusion, even ineptitude. And somehow, it means stopping up the toilet, and you still refuse to admit such a crime against ladyhood, even though your mother can see right through you.

The cast is off.

Seth only had his cast for 4 weeks. It felt like longer. After the cast was cut off this morning, the first thing he said about his arm was, "It feels really smushed." And you can tell his right arm is slightly smaller than his left. He touched things, saying everything feels different (one hand compared to the other).

He still favors the left hand and holds his right as if the cast is still on. He says he wants to keep writing with his left. And I tell him not to worry about it; just see what happens naturally.

I'm afraid he needs another bath or two before the old shoe smell goes away.

His pithy nuggets

At supper tonight: "The wise-less say stupider things than the wise."

And just before Spongebob time: "A E I O and U are boys. And Y is sooooo busy!"

Go Seth!

Today at flag salute, Seth will find out that he's been chosen to have Pizza With the Principle. He got a "character counts" from his teacher about a week ago. He'd helped pick up some papers that flew around on a windy day, and no one asked hiim! I told Daddy, at least he does that at school! We had a chuckle.

He has been a good sport lately. Three weeks ago, he fell off the monkey bars and broke his arm. I had just signed him up for karate the day before! (They're extending the contract time while he heals.) He had also started in the running club. For every mile they run, they earn a little plastic foot to go round a necklace. For Seth, we're now calling it the "walking club" because getting tripped up in all those little feet might be bad for a broken arm. So imagine a seven-year-old, competitive little boy getting left behind, and then passed on the following laps, by all of his little competitive peers. He finally cried about it yesterday 'cause he wants to run with everyone else. I reminded him that his arm is getting better, at that very moment and that it wouldn't last forever.

Interesting consequence of breaking his right arm, he is surprisingly ambidextrous now. See an awesome example here!

Arwen’s big year

Well, the big event of Arwen's sixth year is that she started kindergarten. Three and a half hours every day and a sea of scampering 5 year old playmates to choose from. Class time is no longer about mud play, kitchen toys, and dress up. And the outcome? She's exhausted. I've never seen her this tired.

She had an easy summer; the hardest day any of us had was walking to and from the drive-through dairy for ice cream.

Her first two days of kindergarten were fine. After that, she's come home with tears, near tears, talking about tears she had in class, or quite grumpy about not getting ice cream or a play date.

She won't hold my hand at the mall, saying in a shrill voice, "I'm not little! I'm not little!" She tried to pull out of my hand on the sidewalk too, until a big Harley revved his engine, and she jumped like a cat.

In another week, she'll fall into her routine. She'll go to bed early, like she's supposed to. She'll learn a couple names at school and get some homework behind her to be proud of herself. Obviously they can't understand it completely, but I think a part of a child's mind must sense, "I'm in this for the long haul."


When Amie (pronounced Ah-mee, meaning grandma) visited this summer, she and Savannah made a skirt for Arwen. Using some fabric that never quite became curtains in our house in Connecticut, they sewed a piece of elastic in by hand, and the bottom hem of the curtain became the bottom hem of the skirt.

Savannah wants to be a fashion designer. One of her babysitters told her about a school in San Francisco, and she wants to go. You can't hold 9 year olds to their dreams, (I wanted to be a detective when I was little. Of course, Savannah says, "Maybe you still can.") but I encouraged it, saying, "Yay! I could come into the City, and we could go shopping together." which is probably the best encouragement a girl could hear.

She just needs a sewing machine. Mine died several years ago in Connecticut. Savannah sits in the floor, like I did at 16. She lays out hand-me-down fabric from me. By hand, she sews clothes for her American Girl dolls.

Mr. Luke Skywalker and his mommy

Yes. Seth still says "Mommy" sometimes. Strange to type it, but it sounds natural for him to say it, although I can tell he's trying to use it in the right context.

Today after school he held my hand to the car and said sadly, "Whenever I think about the first Star Wars, I wanna cry."

Assuming he meant the so-far-forbidden-episode with the lava, I said, "You'll get older though, and be able to see them all."

He said, "No, I mean when Luke Skywalker.... Mister Luke Skywalker had to say goodbye to his mommy, never to see her again, and went into outer space."

Today was his second and obviously tiring day of (all-day) first grade.

Arwen is 5.

Arwen is 5. She never misses a meal, first one to the table, last one to leave. This is endearing to me because she is adventurous when it comes to food (and making friends).

Her temper is as big as her appetite, but we know all the right privileges to withhold to get her best behavior out of her. She's a foot stomper, shutting her door but crying loudly enough for the sound to carry through on our behalf.

Getting herself ready these summer mornings means three ponytails (from her big sister), a bracelet on one wrist, a watch on the other, a flashy necklace, and one of my hand-me-down bags to complete the look.

She doesn't understand the newness of going off to kindergarten. She's eager to tell everyone she'll start kindergarten, but I know she can't understand the bigness of the school or the student body. We tell her that she'll see Seth in passing through the kindergarten fence. He'll wave and tell his friends, "That's my baby sister." She'll wave and say, "That's my big brother." This is the only year that all three of them will be on the same school ground.

"Baking" some fried eggs

We didn't bake them, but it was one of a few lessons Seth got today at lunch. I said if y'all want ice cream, you'll either have an egg or nuts first. (They already ate a day's worth of fruit.)

On his own initiative he put the kiddie chef coat on, and cracked his first egg into a little pan of butter. He read, yes he's reading a LOT now, the egg carton said "organic free range". He learned what a range is, where animals can run and play. He learned the song "Home on the Range" which I got stuck in my head while we were cooking. He learned that even though the butter is salted, I like to add a bit more to our eggs.

He ate it and returned to the kitchen to fry Savannah's egg also. Funny that he cracked her egg yolk but not his own. He was not intimidated by the heat, which means I had to add a little fear to the recipe.

The memory of it cancels out their squabbling in the backyard later.

I know what my Power is.

I was kickin' back, digesting after supper tonight when Seth said to me, "I know what my Power is."

This sounded like superhero mythology to me, so I perked up. I could hear the capital "P" in what he said and asked him to explain.

"My Power is Strength." He loves making muscles with both arms. He's very lean. Even his tushy has about the smallest amount of fat on it that a six year old boy's tushy can have and still be a tushy. So he's all muscle, but there's no bulk in his biceps. Very cute.

He continued, "I've been getting a lot of boo boos." He showed me his latest boo boo, a scratch created by sliding on the tanbark at recess today. He reminded me that I'd once said the more boo boos he gets the stronger he'll be.

I remembered then the conversation we'd had a few weeks ago. With so much repetition, trying to get through their selective hearing, (almost always with orders) I never know how much children actually hear, my guess is, more than most parents realize. I believe they especially hear concepts, the little sponges. They can make the same request 3 and 4 times in the hope that I'll finally give them the answer they want. Then when I explain an abstract, albeit unsolicited, thought, they can grab on with their minds in the right phase of development to completely understand, and even make the practical application to themselves.

But tonight I had to correct him about our old conversation. The boo boos will make you tougher. He made his muscles. He told me that I could be tough too. I said, "Oh, no. I don't wanna be too tough. I'm a mama." He walked out of the room with arms flexed saying, "I wanna be TOUGH."

What led to Savannah’s first piano lesson and the things that naturally followed

Savannah had her first piano lesson a week ago tomorrow. So I'm prepping for her second lesson. I'm not really a piano teacher, but it all falls into place, especially since she's had some music in school and played the recorder, just like I did when I was young.

I'd been waiting for a full size piano. We have a nice keyboard, one that works through Garage Band, full-sized keys, but only 4 octaves. My friend Lucy and I are exchanging Spanish lessons (para mi) for help with her English pronunciations and obscure words. (Her English is very good.) She is learning piano from her husband. She is motivated and ambitious, and I'm grateful for those qualities' rubbing off on me. She was my impetus for finally sitting down to Savannah's first lesson.

And wouldn't you know it, I now have the option to choose between two different pianos which need homes, for free. I've yet to get contact numbers, and they could have very well found new homes already. But it's lovely how these things seem to work out.

On a related topic, I spent some time singing a week ago. I cleaned the kitchen with Emmylou Harris on, and when I finished cleaning, I had to just sit down and sing. She demanded it. I noticed a long time ago that my voice is much better with a strong dose of confidence. Last Monday, I sung with more confidence than I've ever felt. It was so uplifting that it made my stomach hurt. And I've actually avoided doing it in again in the last week. I'm hoping for singing lessons, but I have more pressing projects right now.

But as a result of the singing, I did pick up my guitar; it had been a year. Then when I tried to tune the thing, the second string broke. The strings were old anyway. This brought me yesterday to our music shop on Main street which I've thought of going into for the last 3 years. I got the strings and a guitar stand to keep it out and easy to pick up again, for anyone in the family who wants to play.

Something to teach your Mama

My nine year old approached me this afternoon while I was reading and told me, "In 5th grade, we get to dissect a squid and owl pellets."

"Owl pellets?" I asked. I assumed she meant owl poop.

"You don't know what owl pellets are?" she asked suddenly. And there it is, I could see it. She loves to find something she knows that I don't.

She explained that they will dissect the indigestible parts of the mouse from the owl's stomach, bones, hair and such... I looked at her in disbelief and asked, "What?" a couple of times.

This is disgusting to me. Really glad she's getting a great education but glad for once that mine was apparently not as good as it could've been. All we ever dissected were frogs. I googled owl pellets. She's right, of course. I was taken to a site that marketed the pellets for sale in bulk to classrooms, along with a book called Owl Vomit.

Arwen’s thoughtfulness

Yesterday she dug for worms in The Pit in our backyard. She designated their family roles based on size. Holding earthworms in her palm she pointed, "This is the mama, and this is the baby."

In our brotherless hour today we had a date at Starbucks. Arwen got the vanilla milk and little vanilla scone. She also picked up a chocolate milk for Seth. (I hadn't even thought to take him anything! Trying to be frugal.) So she nibbled her scone and drank her vanilla milk and said in her 4 year old accent, "Did you take a bite of that and then drink your coffee? It's really good together." My scone was maple; I took a bite and drank my coffee. I agreed. It's very good together.

More from Seth

Conversation 1

Seth, sitting with me in the van outside a Starbucks, upon seeing Army personnel in their camouflage: "Look! It's the Army!"

Then trying to call out to them through the closed window: "Did you fight for Lincoln?"


Conversation 2

Seth: "I know why you make cookies for Daddy to take to work.
Me: "Why?"
Seth: "So he can share them with his classmates."

Does nothing kill rock?

Seth said this morning, "Did you know that nothing kills rock?"

I started thinking about how rock could be blown up, mining for coal or changing the landscape for roadways. And what words can quickly describe this while I'm trying to get them all to school on time?

But then he says paper can't kill rock. Aaahhh. Paper can't kill rock. "But dynamite blows up rock, Seth." I showed him a thumbs up and demonstrated. "Scissors cut dynamite. Dynamite blows up rock."

He said again, "Paper doesn't kill rock. Nothing kills rock." Then I realized he'd thought he'd found the surest way to beat all of his friends in a game of chance. I had to tell him, "Son, if nothing kills rock then everyone would use it all the time."

My sphere of influence seems small, but I like to think Seth's got something new and cool to introduce on the playground. By this time next year, children as far as Detroit will be using dynamite to blow up rock.

Nine year old’s joke of the day

It's been said that in the first two years of a child's life, parents work in happy anticipation to get their tykes to walk and talk; then they spend the next sixteen trying to make them sit down and shut up.

9-year-old’s jokes o’ the day

Q: What goes "Moooooz?
A: A jet flying backwards

Q: What do you call a sleeping bull?
A: A bulldozer

Q: "Doctor! Doctor! My boy has swallowed a roll of film!" What does the doctor say?
A: "Let's just hope he doesn't develop!"

Q: What state has a friendly greeting for everyone?
A: Ohio

and my favorite for today........

Q: What did the traffic light say to the driver?
A: "Don't look! I'm changing!"

Mothering a daughter, or Why it never occurred to me I might be pretty

American Girl dolls are all the rage in our area. Although they're expensive, they are the wholesome antithesis of Barbie, correctly proportioned, fully clothed, and age appropriate. Every doll comes with a back story. Julie is from San Francisco in the 70's. Kit grew up in the Great Depression to become a journalist. All of that appeals to the story tellers in both me and Savannah.

I refused to buy her one a year ago, so she saved her birthday/Christmas/grandma money to buy one herself. (In the last year, she has also bought Ruthie.) She has saved for a few of the accessories also. But when our neighbor invited Savannah to her American Girl sleepover birthday party, I was happy to buy pink polka dot pajamas, for her and the doll! Wondering about the precedent I was setting, the girl in me was tickled for her. It would be here in plenty of time for the sleepover.

She wore the pjs for three nights before she got a black stain on the bodice, actually that's not bad on a kid's timeline. It didn't come out in the wash. The dry cleaners could have it ready on the day of the sleepover! We went together to pick them up, only to find the one button had broken in the cleaning process and two had fallen off! The cleaner's supplied six new buttons. I'd have to replace them, and this couldn't have happened on a busier Saturday! I noticed the new buttons were shaped slightly different than the three remaining but figured Savannah wouldn't notice. On the way back to the car, she said "You are gonna replace them all, right?" I asked why? She said, "Because the new buttons are different." It was more work for me, but I was happy she noticed.

While we were out, she remembered that she'd never gotten the birthday magazine I'd promised from Safeway. And there was Safeway right next to the cleaners. On our detour she held up a girl's magazine, with girls on the cover just a bit older. (I remember always aspiring to be the girls two and three years older than I was.) I scanned the headlines for dating and kissing, but it had phrases like "Cliques, good or bad?" and How to have the best sleepover ever.... I approved it. Then Spongebob caught her eye. I watched her looking between a girl/growing up magazine and a funny cartoon. Hmm, growing up or staying young. I made it clear it was her choice but asked which magazine would she get the most use out of. She chose Spongebob. When I asked why, she said, "Because it has comics." :-) Even my mother loves Spongebob.

Savannah knows she's pretty. It's nothing she's said out loud. But I can see it in the way she presents herself. This school year she's been brushing her teeth and hair every morning without being told. She just started wearing perfume. Although Daddy and I had to teach her how little she really needs.

I've told her she looks pretty, which is not quite the same as saying "You're pretty." It's a hard thing for me to say to her. I need to be level headed for her, not too vain. I've found it easier to tell Arwen she's adorable, but at 4 1/2 she is still hanging on to her babyhood with her round face and dimpled knuckles. In the long run, I don't think it's best for either of them to hear it too much.

I'm looking for the balance on that fine line of passing on confidence or vanity. I was raised with a "Pretty is as pretty does" mentality. And her example of pretty comes from my behavior more than my words, no? I was never told I was pretty. The single mother who raised me, the woman who cut bad sycamore limbs with a chain saw, chopped fire wood and poisoned wasp nests even though she was near hysterically afraid of them, well, she wanted me to go into science. She liked hearing me play Fur Elise or Floyd Cramer's Last Date on the piano. You can't put looks in a cash register, my dad liked to say. Their generation, and mine too I think, didn't have the audience that this new one has. Pretty was something we were just supposed to know, our ranking in the world's gauge of who's handsome and who's not.

What if I'd had a mother who tried building my confidence with compliments? Would I have been more assertive in junior high? happier? What if it had gone to my head? What if it had ruined me?

Now I'm a fairly secure person. I like my green eyes and ski-slope nose and I've even grown to like my natural hair color. But when I hear someone say that so and so (insert celebrity name here) is beautiful, my next, most natural thought is, "What do you think of me?" With a beauty compliment dropped, there is an invisible notion left hanging, the notion of ugliness. So I find it no easier in saying "She's beautiful." than "She's ugly." However, if we're going to hear we're beautiful, it should be from someone who knows us.

I'm still figuring out the gender difference, but I've had no problem telling Seth he's handsome.

Colloquialisms that Seth gets mixed up

"Gimme a rest!" comes from Give it a rest and Gimme a break.

And for some reason he says, "Kill me I must be dreaming!" instead of "pinch me."


I have found a pattern in my party planning. When I'm shopping for my children at their birthdays or December, I'm conservative in my buying. Savannah always gets one or two things on her list, which is always 5 times that long. When she shows me her list and talks about it, I can see two things; one, she knows she won't get everything on the list, and two, this year there were subtleties in her approach. She's conscious of appearing greedy.

I love that. I want to reach out and hug her for it. She's thoughtful of her place in the world, and I'm happy to see that so far she has not fallen for the notion of entitlement that so many children of this generation and in our location on the map seem to have fallen for.

It must mean I'm correct in my conservative shopping. But then I wrap the gifts. It's almost always the night before the friends come for games and cake, and every time I panic a little. I'm sad that I didn't give her just one or two more things on her list. Then I wonder if I'll have time to pick up High School Musical 2 or one of those American Girl movies tomorrow before the party. (I won't.)

Her main present is an American Girl accessory. (She owns two American Girl dolls which she paid for herself with allowance and birthday/grandma money.) Before wrapping the box, I saw the catalogue in it. I've thrown several away before she ever even saw them. I know, aren't I cruel? ;-) But some I give to her. Tonight, the catalogue reminded me how I felt when I was young and looked at wish books. I knew I couldn't have _any_thing in them. That doesn't bother me now, seeing things I can't have, but it was very sad when I was young. I hope it's not like that for her. I don't think it is. I believe she has more ambition than I did, more knowledge than I had that she can work toward something.

On her card I drew a picture of nine individual candles, some with little polka dots, some with big, some with stripes, one a flower collar and the last, the ninth, large wings and a smile on the flame. The front of the card quotes Helen Keller. "Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all."

"Coffee" house

At Starbucks this morning before going to the free movie, Arwen said, "This place smells like sugar."

He’s and She’s

Yesterday I rolled Arwen's window down so she could say goodbye to a little friend, and her purple balloon got sucked out the window! If you've ever witnessed this, it is a true heartbreak for a child. Their tears are genuine.

Trying to put a good spin on her tragedy I said, "But he's free now! He got his freedom!"

I expected more tears, but she said, "You mean she."

April 22nd

She climbed into bed with us this morning, as she does every morning, and we oohed and aahed about her being 4! But she says, "But I'm not big." I know what she means. She's been babied. She is the baby, and she still looks like a baby. Her face is still round; her hands are still dimpled. Arwen is a peanut. All the strangers at Trader Joe's seem surprised when she tells them she's turning 4, not 3.

Highlights: chocolate muffins, a tea party board game and cheeseburgers with her family. The big party with all her little girlfriends is still 10 days away.

Savannah’s Declaration of Independence (her spelling)

I Savannah declare:

- Stay up later
- Have a raise in my allowence
- Have the computer in my room
- More sleepovers and playdates
- Science stuff
- Science posters

Savannah (in very curly cursive)

It is a big job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Arwen and I were kickin' back on the couch - all the delicious fruit from the farmer's market settling in our bellies. She said, "Mama, you sooo brave."

Mom - "Really? How am I brave?"

Arwen - "You feed us."

The F Word

End of the year, 2nd grade, Savannah comes home asking, "What's the F word?" I refused to tell her. She'll not hear it from me.

I'm actually surprised that she got this far into her eighth year without hearing this word before. And it's not that I mind saying it to her, but after hearing the word, I know her next question. "What's that mean?", and I haven't yet tailored a good answer for a 7 year old.