Thursday, December 13, 2018

Soap Bubbles

Groggy and fuzzy with blankey withdrawals, I pulled on the shower knob and undressed. I put my hand in the icy spray and quickly pulled it back. I slumped into my usual waiting posture. Then a thought zinged...

Oh, yeah! I wanted to try out our homemade soap today.

I crept through our house in the buff, conscientious of all the open windows. I selected the raggedy end piece of the cucumber mint soap that was curing on the shelf and gave it a sniff drawing in a cool, fresh, barely-there scent.

I tip-toed back into the steamy shower, because quiet = invisible. I let the water run over me as I grabbed my trusty loofah. I rubbed the soap into the loofah and was rewarded with a big pile of lather. I soaped up and scrubbed down twice, thoroughly happy to be covered in lather from our homemade soap.

I washed my hair and rinsed and turned off the shower. I carefully balanced the thin piece of soap on end to allow it to dry better.

In the hours since my shower, I have been noticing the softness of my skin and the fresh scent. It’s lovely.

My mind always goes to the why of these feelings.

Is it the reality of the superiority of homemade soap or the satisfying experience of making a thing, then using that thing, that is creating this lovely feeling?

On the one hand, homemade soap is supposedly superior to mass produced soaps because it retains its natural glycerin created during the chemical reaction. Also, I used good quality oils with a superfat (oil left over after reacting with lye) that I thought would work well on my skin. (It tends to be dry.) Also, I love the fresh, yet mild smell of mint and cucumber and picked out this recipe specifically for the hot, sweaty summer.

On the other hand, I made it myself. I used dried peppermint from my garden to infuse the olive oil. I pureed cucumber in distilled water and added the lye. Then I strained the mint from the olive oil and combined it with weighed out portions of other oils. I blended the mixture until trace and added a weighed out portion of green clay and peppermint essential oil. Then I blended again and poured the batter into a soap mold and wrapped it in a towel. After four days of peeking at it in the mold, I popped it out. Waited a few more days and sliced it up and set it aside to cure. That corner of the house smells so fresh and nice. It could use another week to cure but that thin end-slice was close enough.

So is it the custom fit or the satisfaction of using something I hand crafted? Or maybe a bit of both?

Charley brews beer. His favorite is IPA and when he makes one, I hardly want any other variety when he has his homebrew on tap.

Over the summer we had many salads from our garden, romaine lettuce, and other mixed greens, cucumbers, strawberries... They were four months in the making and worth every moment of effort. So. Good.

We are growing blackberries and the ones I didn’t pick and eat warm and fragrant from the cane I’ve made into cobbler or frozen on trays. Oh my, the cobbler… The smoothies… Oh the nostalgia of being five years old foraging Blue River for blackberries on those long summer days.

My kids insist that birthday cake I bake at home (from a box) and frost with a simple buttercream recipe is the only way their birthday cake should taste. Boots still talks about the one year she opted to order a cake from Fred Meyers (Yay for me!) because she liked the horses on it. She still says, “The frosting was way too thick and it tasted chemically and gross. The cake was moist, but weird and spongy. I’m never doing that again.”
I have the same issue with apples. We had an ancient apple tree in the yard of the duplex we lived in. For three glorious autumn seasons I gorged myself on these softball sized, crunchy, juicy apples. After we left that place I couldn’t eat grocery store apples. I still think about them every time I cut into an apple and try to enjoy it. It falls short. I’m growing apple trees now, and whenever I lose a crop to pests, I’m devastated. People tell me that I can still use them for juice and apple sauce so I do, but I don’t want to. I want to pick and eat the apple and be ten years old again. Then end. Good day.

Berzo has a bazillion stuffed animals, but the one she treasures the most is a ratty old teddy bear named Theodore. He gets the primo spot snuggled next to her under the blankets every night. She loves him because Theodore was Charley’s bear from when he was a baby.

My father-in-law’s smoked salmon. Lina’s pickled asparagus. Kim’s brownies. Dad's biscuits and gravy. Tricia’s zucchini bread and stuffed peppers. Lori's spaghetti casserole she gifts you when your family struggles. Warren’s salmon. Katie’s Slutty Brownies. Oma's chocolate cream pie... I could go on, but I won’t...

OK, I lied. Just one more.

I have eaten a lot of trout in my life, but never are they so tasty as the ones I caught on my own line. Is it the superior freshness? Is it that they sizzled in Dad’s cast iron with the spices and breading I like best? Is it that it reminds me of the trout I ate as a child? Probably. I don’t even order trout in restaurants anymore because because I always find the experience disappointing. It tastes OK, but there’s something missing.

That’s it, isn’t it? That there’s just something missing. A missing connection. A connection to our memories. A connection to our efforts and experiences. A connection to people we love.

Maybe that’s why restaurants use so much butter and salt on everything, to try to make up for that missing something? How many times do I eat without even tasting what I’m eating? All the time except, when I’m eating something that I’ve grown, caught, or made from scratch. Then I sit back and take note. Do I notice how nice grocery store soap feels? Nope, I just scrub up and get out while my mind churns on the day’s to do list.

I think we try to fill this something-missing void with new stuff, distractions, ice-cream, coffee, or try to dull it with chemicals, but it never quite does it. We’re still searching for something...

Maybe it’s all those little connections that make life sweet. Feeling connected to our friends, family, backyards where we grow stuff, the lakes and rivers where we fish, and forests where we hunt, forage, and play, and to our past...

So bake the bread. Play and sing the songs. Ferment the beer. Sew the dress. Knit the blanket. Sip the Oyster Stew. Use your dad’s iron skillets whenever you can. Take out your grandpa’s fishing pole. Smell the soap on your skin.

Then share all those wonderful connections with others and weave a beautiful web of meaningfulness and community.


Or maybe I think too much...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Learning to Fall

I'm learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings. Coming down, is the hardest thing.
So true, Tom Petty. So. True.

But...maybe...I should learn to fall.

I watched a video entitled, “People are Awesome”.

Cool right?

If you didn't watch it, one clip after another showed men and women doing incredible acts of athleticism and grace. A woman leaps backwards from a cliff, twists, tumbles, into a dive into the waiting water below. A man does a series of bouncing flips on a slackline. A snowboarder glides up a tree gives it a push, flips and continues on his way down the hill. Awesome, indeed.

I’ve never attempted anything shown here. Not even close.

On the flip-side there are also thousands of fail videos out there. Epic crash and burns. I’m sure all these people have fallen thousands of times with a few epic crash and burns among them. The slackline guy was over water, and though the video didn’t show a fall—his hair was wet. However, I’d bet serious injuries for them are rare. So rare, that it never deterred them from pushing their boundaries.

Falling/failing was a non-issue. Part of the process.

I developed a fear of falling as a kid. I never learned to cartwheel, handstand, walk on my hands, flip from the monkey bars, and as I grew up my fear of falling kept me from learning to snowboard.

I had taken some bad falls you see, I over-rotated a few times and hurt my lower back with the resulting solid thump when I fell. I’ve fallen and hurt my tailbone countless times.  I've knocked the wind out of myself. I’ve sprained my wrists and ankles. I’ve been knocked backwards and saw stars. I’ve caught my snowboard edge many times with bone rattling spills, sometimes on ice.

My first and only newspaper appearance for sporting. 
I love team sports and played them all, regardless. Although I got good at not falling, when I did I was usually sidelined for weeks with a sprain. I’d chafe while sitting on the bench watching someone else play the position I’d worked so hard to earn. The worst was when my absence caused a position shuffling that ruined the team’s chemistry and caused us to lose. I went to a small school and every player mattered.  I played a lot of ball games with taped up joints. “Nah, coach, I’m fine. Ankle, wrist, knee, leg, feels fine—see? Put me in.”

Then I graduated school. Moved. Started a full time job. Got married. Went to college. Started a career. Did that for ten years. Became a mom.  Competitive sports gave way to running, indoor rock climbing, hiking, biking, and working out. Falling was pretty much a non-issue at this point in my life.

Then at 38, I started learning Martial Arts. Taking a fall is an integral part of the deal and at first it was my least favorite aspect at class. But it was unavoidable. Throwing and being thrown is a fundamental aspect of training. I throw my partner, then it's her turn to toss me around.

About to be swept.
Seeing our (OK—my) terrible falling skills, our instructor stopped class and gave us a talk about proper falling technique. He said that of all the martial arts skills he’s learned over the years, learning to fall properly was the biggest contributor to his personal safety. He had many stories of devastating falls that only resulted in a few scrapes. He had stories about his sons, who have grown up with martial arts, avoiding serious injuries as little tykes because of their falling skills.

He then showed us several safe falling techniques and we spent the remainder of class falling. It was first. Then easier. By the end of class it I, tall-gangly-Amy, was having fun falling. From then on, whenever we were going spend the class working throws, I would warm up with a dozen or so falls to remind myself of the finer points: tuck chin, round back, arms in, aim for one of my squishy butt cheeks, breathe out, break fall if needed. Then we learned rolls. Not somersaults...rolls. 

So fun.

Now...I can cartwheel. Now...I can handstand (sorta—my legs kind of flail) but if I go over I tuck my head and roll down a rounded spine. No more bashing my sacrum on the ground.  It ain't pretty, but I can do it!

I was on a run recently when I tripped over nothing and fell. As I was going down—face first, I remembered not to straight-arm it, and deflected it into a sideways roll. I had a few minor scrapes but no real injuries. What could have been a bashed knee and two sprained wrists was nothing. I think falling is the coolest thing I’ve learned so far...that and the butterfly kick. Butterfly kicks are pretty cool too.

Then my mind, as it is wont to do, slips to metaphors. Falling and failing is the same thing.

I was trying to do something and I fell/failed.  Sometimes it’s just a flub, like when I fell running or when I misspell an easy word. But often fails/falls happen when we’re stretching ourselves (flailing) and trying something new.

Twenty some years ago, a-hem!, I strapped on my shiny new rollerblades and went skating with my cute boyfriend and his sister at the Memorial Coliseum. I was cruising along, then suddenly I was spinning around on the floor. Lina said, “Hurry, get up, Charley’s coming around the bend.”

I scrambled to my feet, wobbled, and pushed off grateful to avoid the embarrassing scene. I’ve been saved from other embarrassing mistakes by not speaking up in class, by not finishing that project, by not sending my work out to a publisher, by not trying for that position I really wanted because I knew I wouldn't be able to take the fall—it would hurt too much. 

“What if I fail?” So embarrassing.

But why are mistakes so embarrassing? So what? It is really that bad for the world to see I’m not perfect?

Last school year, a little girl I know (and adore) in Berzo's First Grade class was brought to tears because she made a mistake on the book she was making, she started on it upside down so it opened the wrong way, and we didn’t have any extra for her to start over. Another kiddo in a different Centers group, cried when she made a mistake on her construction paper paper project she couldn’t erase. She nearly burned up the entire session fretting over her error before she decided to cut a scrap of paper to cover her mistake before she could continue her work. I would have loved to see these kids creatively incorporate their mistakes into their project and go with it, or just shrug it off and move on. But upon realizing their mistakes they were horrified, embarrassed, and brought to a standstill.

Huh, so this is a thing...

In my time helping out in Berzo's classroom, I’ve repeated this experience with virtually every kid. From backward letter Bs, to misspelled words, to circling the wrong picture... Upon realizing their mistake they'd call me over, desperate for my help.  I’d tell them that’s it's OK, just line it out and keep going. And that's why they’re in First Grade, to learn these things and make mistakes.  If they already knew everything they would be in the Second Grade then there would be a whole new set of mistakes to make. I told them that I make mistakes. All. The. Time.

They’d look at me like, “Really? Well, I don’t. Help me fix it before someone else sees!”

They are FIRST GRADERS, so literally everything in academia is new, and yet they expect perfection from themselves and they shut down when they fall short.

My own kids are this way too. Innocent mistakes and missteps own them and shut them down. They live in constant fear of messing up. They are even embarrassed in front of us. Charley hears, “Don’t tell Mama.” I hear, “Don’t tell Papa.” Us! We have changed poopy diapers that blew up their backs and out their collars countless times, and they act like we don’t know they aren’t perfect.

Boots said, “I’m just going to be the quiet little mouse that never speaks up,” about her 6th Grade year.

I said, “Why would you do that? I think the world needs to hear what you have to say.” This kid is a deep thinker and has a lot to contribute.

Boots said, “I might be wrong. I might sound stupid.”

Damn, she’s just like me. 

I said, “So? If you ask a ‘dumb’ question, you know you just asked it for the at least half of the class that had the same question, right?”

“I just cant, Mama.”

Berzo won’t even let me put water in her lunch bag because one time last year it leaked and got her backpack and pants wet. She was horrified. It. Was. Just. Water. I would have loved for her to have said, “Haha! It looks like I peed my pants! So funny! Can you pass me a paper towel, please?” Nope, she’d rather choke her food down dry.

I have a feeling the people who reach their personal goals are experts at failing.

I have a feeling that every person in that People are Awesome video is an expert at falling.

I taught my girls to walk, but did I teach them to fall? I’m pretty sure, my “Uh-Ohs!” when they took a spill and a scoop-and-cuddle delivered the unintended message that falls are bad and scary  and should be avoided. They are learning to succeed in school, but what about persevering through failures? Their terror at making mistakes tells me, no, they’re not.

BUT there’s still time. I can show them fails/falls are not to be avoided but to be sought out and practiced, so that they don’t become a barrier to who and what they want to be.

Get used to being wrong, and learn to admit to it, and keep moving forward.

Get used to losing, and learn handle it with grace.

Get used to being laughed at, and laugh too. This was super-hard for me. But I’m pretty good at it now.

Get used to falling down, and learn to do it well.

Get used to being rejected, and learn to shrug it off.

Get used to falling short, and evaluate the scenario to figure out why and fix it.

Makes mistakes, and learn to own them, so they don’t own you.

Learn to fall, so you can learn to fly.


Miss you Tom Petty. Say “hi” to my dad for me.

 I'm flying!  Hold my hand!

Rock on! But be safe!

Look at you go! Don't fall!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Lice Capades

I kinda wanted to cry a little.

I kinda wanted to shave my head.

I kinda hated hair.

On a chilly night last spring, I reclined on the sofa snuggling my blanket, sipping tea while watching a show with Charley. Berzo came up and flipped her head down exposing her neck and said, “Mama, can you check my hair for lice?”

We’ve been dealing with lice for a couple weeks and I felt confident that the problem had been eradicated from our household. But, hey, doesn’t hurt to check, and it’ll set Berzo's mind at ease.

“Sure. Go grab the lice comb.”

“OK, Mama!”

She ran off then came back and put the comb in my hand.  She flipped her head down again. I started to comb.

I combed and looked. Nothing. Nothing.

My mind began to wander.

Gosh, I’m tired. I’m so glad it’s Friday. Don’t have to get the kids up early. Morning coffee with Charley will be nice…

Wait. What the fuck is that!

I stopped and inspected the bug that was scrambling on the comb.

“What is it, Mama?”

“Not sure. Go grab a paper towel, please.”

I wiped it off on the paper towel and experimented with smooshing it. It doesn’t smoosh. I smoosh harder and grind it with the comb tines into the paper towel. Still squirming. For a moment, I lost the bug in the towel folds and think it’s in my blanket. I pushed my blanket on the ground and searched the towel again and there it is. I expected it to jump like a flea, it didn't; it just flailed on the towel. I pinned it with one thumbnail to isolate the head, then brought in my other and pressed them together.
Crunch, snap. It’s dead.

Huh, so that’s a lice...louse..lice-louse or louse of lice?


I got up. I sat Berzo in front of the computer and got the Lice Detection Spray and hosed her head down with the stuff. I combed and found some nits and another louse. I comb and comb.

I wash the comb.

Lice are afraid of me.
I sat Boots the Impervious down and sprayed and combed. Her hair is much longer, so as I pulled it through her hair and she squealed each time as I neared the ends of her hair.



All the years lice has gone through our school Boots has never gotten it. Even when she’s played with kids for hours that had an infestation, for whatever reason she’s never gotten it. Until now.

As I combed my own hair, I informed Charley, “If I have it again. I shaving my head too.”

Cue head scratching.


The Lice Capades began with a frantic note home from Berzo's teacher about a lice outbreak in her classroom. Berzo was checked at school, no bugs found. Whew! I double checked her at home—no bugs. (Not that I really knew what I was looking for.)

I figured that our string of lice-doging luck was continuing as usual. Perhaps helped along by the magic spice spray we use on the kids before we send them off to school.

Then on a Monday, just as I was arriving home from helping out in Berzo's class, I got a call from the school with the report that Berzo had lice.

“Really? OK, I’ll be right there,” I said.

I picked up a distressed and embarrassed kiddo and brought her straight away to Lice Knowing You in Beaverton. We walked up to the door and I tried to pull it open.


What, what? Noooo….

“What are we going to do, Mama?” Berzo said squeezing my hand.

We idled for a few minutes while I tried to figure out what to do. We walked away to see if there was another entrance, when a head popped out of the door.

“We’re you just trying to come in?”

Slightly desperate, I say, “Yes…”

“We’re closed right now…” she looks at me intently, “but come on in, I’ll help you.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” I said. I wanted to hug her, but thought a lice expert might not appreciate the gesture.

Just like this...
She let us in and sat us down. She sprayed Berzo's head with detangler and ran a lice comb through her hair and wiped it on a paper towel. She walks over and shows me the myriad of lice bugs and eggs littered all over the towel.

“Oh, OK.”

She put a shower cap on Berzo to contain the zoo in her hair and checked me. She sprayed my hair down and ran the comb through a few times.  A paper towel appeared in my field of vision, “You have it too. See?”

“Oh, OK,” was all I said.

 Inwardly I was stunned as I watched the lice louses squirm in the sticky spray stuff.

That just came off my head!

On the flip side, it was nice to find out there was a problem moments before having it treated.

She deloused us both with oil and combing and combing and oil and more combing. My scalp felt bloody, but also kind of awesome, like it was a really thorough treatment.

Another person came in and she paused to help her. The phone rang. She answered it. Combing. Combing. Combing...

It took a long time. And then we were done.

I did some shopping. Lice Detection Kit—yes please. School and Play Spray refill—yes please. Comb for the neighbor boy who played with Berzo while she was infested—yes please. (That's the funnest part of lice, letting others know your bugs might have hitched a ride on their kid.) Prevention spray for her classroom—one of those too.

I gasped when I paid the bill. (It’s $100 per hour!) But she reminded me it comes with a 30 day guarantee; provided the other family members get checked. I scheduled their appointments then thanked her and left for home with a very oily head.

Berzo and I washed our hair, and washed it again. It actually felt quite luxurious afterwards.

Boots was horrified at the news that Berzo and I had lice, so I checked her hair with the new kit and couldn’t find anything. Charley shaved his head. I was a little jealous… They went in the next day and were both cleared.

We all attacked the house following the guidelines provided by Lice Knowing You. We were surprised to find out that lice in your environment is not all that much of concern. Any eggs that fall off die, because they need your body heat to incubate. Any bugs that fall off (they rarely do, holding on is their specialty) can barely move and begin to die within about 12 hours.

Reassuring as it all was, we still vacuumed everything, washed bedding, bagged teddy bears and moved all our couch cushions to the garage.

I brought Berzo back in the next morning to school with a clean head of shiny, spicy smelling, hair. The school nurse rechecked her and gave her the go-ahead to return to class. I brought her in and gave her teacher the School and Play Spray for which she was grateful and joked about spritzing the kids as they came in and out of the classroom.

I looked around and saw all that all the kids’ backpacks and coats were bagged. The fluffy green rug was gone. Most of the girls were in braids and pony tails. The boys had fresh looking short cuts.

Her teacher and I thought we’d seen the last of them.

We both reached up and scratched our heads a little. I wished her luck and left.


And then, like the Terminator, they were back.

I called the Beaverton office first thing in the morning and they are booked solid. She recommended I call their SE Portland office.

Through the tunnel! Arg!

We got appointments and all headed in to have our heads examined again.

She informed me that the head-check costs $15 per head and that any necessary treatments would be free.

“Can we skip the check and go right to treatment?”

I showed her the louse I saved in a plastic bag. She took it and gave it a good look, “Yep, that one of them. But, we don’t want to oil up your head unless there’s something left in there.”

“But we’re already so deep in this,” I said—pleaded.

She checks and her eyes widen when she sees our last transaction...

We waited for another family to be checked. Then it was our turn. She checked us all and we turned out to be clean. The re-infestation must have just gotten going.

I went up to pay for the head-checks and she waved me off, saying, “This one’s on the house.”

I tipped her anyway and thanked her for her help and we left. At home we repeated the vacuum, wash, bag.

And that was that.

I informed Berzo's teacher and she filled me in on the resurgence of lice in her room, despite all her preventative measures. "Stay strong," we told each other.


Now summer has summered. Fall has returned. The big yellow bus has swallowed up my kids and burps them back up for school. We’re working through our first set of cold viruses. Will the Lice Capades return?


Scratch, scratch.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Heluva Day

The day dawned bright and full of promise. Our plan was to ride our bikes to the library. Boots had an appointment with a sixth-grade teacher from her school. Berzo and I were going to practice math by playing a rousing game of Dragon Wood.

The ride was lovely. The game was the most fun I’d ever had playing with Berzo. She was focused on her game strategy and did all her own math. She captured both dragons, but I ended up with more overall points. She took the loss in stride. It was great fun.

At the end of the hour we checked out a few books and collected a happy Boots. Then the girls got their obligatory donut holes and we headed back outside to our bikes.

The sidewalk down from the bike rack has a gentle curve on a gentle slope. Near the base there is a sharp turn connecting the sidewalk into a wheelchair ramp from the library. Berzo got going to the corner, panicked and didn’t turn. She ran smack into the railing jolting her whole body forward. She didn’t fall but let go of her bike and sat down. Then started crying out in pain, “Owe! Owe! Owwwwee!”

Oh crap, that’s the hurt cry. The real one.

I propped up my bike on the railing and ran over to her. She’s was flat on the sidewalk writhing in pain.

“What hurts, baby?”

“My wrist!”

“What about your pelvis?”

I remember the pain of slamming into my handlebar joint well.

“No, just my wrist and my arm! It’s broken! I need an ambulance!”

She is holding her right wrist with her left hand. Her right-hand looks limp and useless.


What to do. What to do. I need a sling. What will make a good sling?

I rooted through my bag.

I thought about my shirt and ruled it out as I am wearing a nude colored bra-let… I’d look naked. I thought about Boot's shirt and imagined her horror.

No...Maybe Berzo's shirt?

Then I noticed my para-cord water bottle holder. Perfect!

I popped the melt joints, and, with no small effort, unraveled the weave. It’s nice and long. I made a loop around the back of her neck and under her wrist being as gentle as humanly possible. Then I wrapped it through her fingers (at the Spock V juncture) and around her chest, nestling her hand into her chest at a slight upward angle. I made a few more wraps and knots and Berzo says it feels good. She stood up—reluctantly, and it’s fairly secured. Boot and I helped her onto her bicycle. I held on to her bike to balance and push her home.

I told Boots to leave her bike near the path and to push my new one home. (Her’s is an old hand-me-down.)

“No, Mama. I can get them both.”

“Boots, no. Just leave your bike and push mine.”

“No, I can get them both.”

Berzo and I wait and I make a phone call to her pediatrician’s office. They have an opening with a Nurse Practitioner that Berzo likes at 1:10.

“Perfect, I’ll take it.”

Berzo and I got moving again are getting quite a bit ahead of Boots as she fumbled trying to get both bikes rolling. I kept going. I expected her to come running up any moment with my bike or riding her own bike. Either way would have been fine, but she didn’t.

I kept pushing Berzo. Boots fell out of view.

I worry.

Isn’t this how things went bad in The Shack? The parent was helping one child and the other one… Oh God. No, she’ll be OK. She’s old enough to handle herself and the path is busy with parents and kids and dog walkers etc. Nobody could get away with nabbing her even IF a weirdo was around.

This I said to myself as Berzo sobbed in my ear as I pushed her on her bike. I pushed faster. I started to trot then slowed to a fast walk again when Berzo got scared of falling again. Sweat soaked into my clothes and ran in my eyes.

I got Berzo home and carried her into the house and placed her on the sofa. I got her a bag of ice and the TV remote. I told her I was going to go get Boots and that I would be back in less than ten minutes. She says, “OK.”

I planted a kiss on her head and dash out the door.

I was grateful that I’m was already dressed in running clothes because it’s too dang hot outside. I took off at a brisk lope. Worry pushed me on faster even though I’m burning up in the sun. As I passed a garage saler for the third time I briefly wonder what he’s thinking...She comes by with two kids on bikes. An hour later she’s pushing one kid on a bike and then five minutes later she barreling down the road on foot...WTH?

I kept on.

As I crested the hill there was a very red-faced little Boonie holding two bikes. She saw me and started to cry.

My worry made me say, “Why didn’t you just do what I asked? I was so worried.”

“I’m sorry, Mama. I just wanted to be strong for you and make you proud of me that I pushed both our bikes. I didn’t want one to get stolen!”

Tears mingled with sweat and ran rivulets down her red cheeks.

“I can replace a bike, but I can’t replace you!”

The last of my angst dissolved in the midst of her pain.  I gave her a big hug and told her how brave she was to try so hard to manage both bikes. I took my bike and noticed my lock was missing. I told her to stay put. I rode at Mach 3 back over the path looking for the lock. I found it in the grass about a quarter of a mile away. Then I barreled back to her.

Boots was not where I left her.

Arg! That kid!

She’s waiting in the shade about 30 yards from where I left her.

OK. Whew. I get that.  

“Let’s go home.”

We hurried home and parked our bikes and went in to see Berzo. She’s upset—Netflix isn’t working.
My arm hurts AND Netflix won't work!

I popped in the movie she borrowed from the library and checked the time on my phone.

Missed call. Voicemail.


I listened to the message. Someone scooped our appointment. I called back and talked to the receptionist. They had another opening at 1:50. After some unsuccessful cajoling to keep the 1:10 slot, I took it.

Berzo gets upset again.

I got her some food and she dialed back into her show.

 I rooted through our closet looking for one of their old slings. I find Berzo's from when she was itty-bitty. 

Darn, too small.

I kept rooting and found Boots'.

Perfect. Wow, my kids have hurt themselves a lot… Ug.

I took off the paracord sling and slide on this one.

“Ah, that feels much nicer, Mama. Thanks,” Berzo says.

“You’re welcome, Baby,” I said and gave her a kiss.

I downed a glass of water and it all flowed right out through my pores.  I'm soaked.

I offered Berzo some medicine—that we don’t have—and drove to the store to get some. I also picked up a bagel and cream cheese for Boots for her lunch. I zoomed back home and get food and medicine to my girls.

I managed to cram a little food into my gob too, then it was off to the pediatrician.

The doctor was kind as she asked questions and worked over Berzo's body checking for injuries.

“Oh, you already had a sling?” the doctor asked.

“Yes, from an old injury of Boots',” I reply.

The girls piped up with their stories, “Mama, remember when I fell off my bike and knocked out my tooth! I didn’t hurt my head or my chest, but it right I smashed my mouth right into the sidewalk!”

Boots, “I broke my arm too! I fell off a shelf! Oh, yeah, remember when I crashed my bike so hard it bent the tire?”

Oh God. You guys!

The doctor broke in, “Are the knees from the crash too?”

“Uh, knees?" I saw the band-aids on her knees and said, "Oh yeah. Uh, no. That was yesterday. She crashed on her bike going from the road up a driveway.”

The doctor raised her eyebrows.

I wondered if she’s seeing air-quotes around “crashed her bike.” I felt (feel) about two inches tall.

She turned to Berzo, “How long have you been riding your bike?”

“Um, like a minute or two.”

I butted in, “She started riding a Strider bike at 2 ½ years old. She’s been on a pedal bike since she was three.”

“Oh, OK,” the doctor says.

The doctor worked her way to the hurt arm and Berzo cried out a few times when she found the tender spots. Berzo did all of the maneuvers she asked her to do. The doctor decided that it was likely not to be broken, but thought it’s bad enough that she’d like to see x-rays.

“If it’s not broken, keep her in the sling over the weekend to remind her to be gentle with it and to also remind her to stay off her bike,” she said.

“Yes, of course. Good idea,” I said, nodding vigorously.

“Then if she’s not using it somewhat by Monday or Tuesday, we might need more x-rays. Sometimes a break won’t show on an x-ray until 5 days or so after the injury,” the doctor said.

Off we went to the imaging center for x-rays. (When did doctors stop doing x-rays? Has it been like a really long time now?)

A short, stressful drive later, I’m ready to expose my little daughter to a significant dose of radiation. I stand behind the safety glass and wonder why they don’t put lead helmets on the kids in there getting all the radiation. She initially says there will only be two “pictures” but end up taking three.

Do we need three? Like, really, need, three? If the doctor did the x-rays she’d stop at the first one if she could see conclusive evidence. But no, gotta make sure the radiologist has all the angles he/she might need even if the first would have done it.

“Please step behind the glass with me.”

Sigh. “OK.”


“OK, that’s it. After the radiologist has a look, they’ll call your doctors office,” the technician said.

Seems like a lot of middle people here… “OK, thank you.”

We headed home. I stopped and treated the girls to Jamba Juice. I parked Clifford the Big Red Truck in a spot designed for a Smart Car. I got out and squeezed in between vehicles to help Berzo get out.

We got home.

I felt woozy.

Overheated. Overstressed. Still recuperating from a cold virus I picked up last week. Carrying no small load of guilt that yet again one of my kids injured herself on my watch.

I long to call my dad. He always had a simple way of breaking things down.

“You had a heluva day, kiddo,” floated across my mind in his rugged voice.

A heluva day indeed. Miss you, Dad.


The doctor called. It’s broken. Damn.  They put a splint on it and told us to come back in a week.

Poor kiddo.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Review: Little Legends The Story Tree

By Tom Percival © 2018

I led a group of very bright First Graders in reading The Little Legends: The Story Tree.

This book is humorous, relatable, and action-packed. At the end of each chapter, we stopped to work in our Study Guide and the kids groaned. Not because the study-guide was overly onerous—it wasn't—I wrote it so it was awesome and fun (wink), they just couldn't wait to see what would happen next. They laughed in all the right places and felt conflicted and tense at times as they tried to figure out who were the good-guys and who were the bad guys. It's complicated...

For kids this young, reading this book in a group is best as some of the concepts and some of the vocabulary was challenging. But with proper scaffolding in a group setting the kids learned a lot while having a ton of fun. The discussions they had were fantastic!

The strength of this book is how it made the kids think deeply...

The Mayor of Tale Town is a tyrant that is selling selfishness and self-aggrandizement as safety by building a wall around the town and keeping all non-humans out and away from the Story Tree. The Story Tree was planted by humans and trolls centuries ago. This provokes a war. Our young heroes are caught in the middle, banished by the mayor, but trying to stop the war and find a better way to end the Mayor's tyranny.

The Troll army, consisting of all banished races, are ready to fight to regain control. The troll leader, Hurrilan, could become the new leader of Tale Town. But they ask themselves would that be any better? He resentful and distrustful of humans. Would he end up as tyrannical against humans? You'd be astonished at the ideas from six and seven-year-olds on the topic.

Mayor Fitch also presents the idea of "history is written by the victors" which spurred a lively discussion.

Pretty heady stuff for First Graders.

However, there is also a courageous chicken. And a half-blind dragon. And super-smart gorillas. And a quirky magician that accidentally turns himself into a bowl of pasta. So. Much. Fun.

We started with this volume (6) which came with a couple of challenges. There are a lot of characters, and there are some references to the other volumes. We overcame the abundance of characters by photo-copying the pictures and cutting them out and pasting them on popsicle sticks as puppets. When they were introduced, we found the puppet and wrote the name of the character on the back. The kids took turns animating the puppets when it wasn't their turn to read.

When the book referenced an earlier volume, we'd stop and speculate as to what happened in that story.

The vocabulary was challenging too, but it was a fantastic opportunity to learn new words, and I was always right there when the reader got stuck.  At the end of the chapter we'd write three new words in our study guide and each person would choose their favorite.

A great read for kids. It was chock full of fun, adventure, and seeds of wisdom.

Now for the fun part. Each reader wrote their own review:

Friday, April 13, 2018

Ways I’m Making My Kid’s Anxiety Worse

Before leaving for school this morning my daughter had a level eight meltdown. She’s ten, which generally makes her too old for meltdowns but anyone with an anxiety disorder will tell you there’s no age limit on meltdowns.

Why, did she melt down? She couldn’t find the right pants.

She ran around the house crying and yelling and screaming in her underpants and a shirt. It would be funny, except it wasn’t.

She ended up wearing day-old-pants and I put her on the school bus with a blotchy-red face and a look that said, "My insides itch and I hate everything."

As my own frustration and anger drained away I reflected on the whole situation and realized it was me that got her train rolling to Meltdownville, because yesterday I asked her, “Are you sure?”

Are you sure? 
This stupid question is right up there with What If scenarios in their anxiety-inducing effects on people.

Are you sure?
Yeah, of course.  Well, I think so.  Maybe.  I don't know. Maybe I remembered it wrong.
Who is really sure about anything? We can delve into the metaphysics on this for hours. No, I’m not sure, because what is reality? Do you want the blue pill or the red pill?

This, I asked her yesterday when she casually informed me that she had a field trip the next day. I had seen neither a message from her teacher nor a permission slip. So naturally, I pass my doubts on to her when I ask, “Are you sure?” I’m effectively telling her, “I don’t believe you. I doubt your ability to relay a simple message, and the consequences for getting this information wrong will be dire, e.g. you could be left behind, excluded, displaced, or worse yet embarrassed in front of your peers. So tell me again. Are. You. Sure?”

The change in her was visible. I just spooled the poor thing up. I softened my tone but continued peppering her with questions like, “Where are you going? What time will you be back? Do they need chaperones?” And I said, “It’s so weird that I haven’t heard about this.”

Why didn’t I just say, “OK. Do I have anything to sign?

Arrrg!  Hindsight is a bitch sometimes.

Worse case, she is wrong and doesn’t have a field trip. So what? Or she doesn’t have a signed permission slip, then she has a choice to make, ask to call me or do whatever kids do that don’t go to field trips. Stay in the library or the computer lab, maybe mentor the little kids? So what? She can handle it when/if presented with the actual situation. Situations are never as bad as anxiety says it will be. And anxiety lives in the future—rarely in the present.

She’s feeling agitated now and fires off answers, “It’s a concert in Portland. I dunno, when the bus takes us. Oh! I have to wear nice clothes with no writing on the front.”

She’s getting worse now, “I don’t have any clothes without writing! Can you get me a new sweatshirt without writing?”

I try to be helpful and point out a few things she has that might work, all of which are not the normal comforting attire she prefers.  (Think portable security blanket.)

“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

This is code for I’m getting overwhelmed and I need some space to calm down. I take the hint and give her some space. She calms down, but the trip is never far from her thoughts.

She has an uneasy sleep and wakes up grumpy.

I suggest a shower to make her feel refreshed.

She says, “I don’t have time! They don’t want kids with wet hair at the concert.”

Uh-oh. She’s on the brink…

She takes a shower anyway and wants to blow-dry her hair immediately. She puts on one of the shirt combinations I mentioned and a pair of underpants and starts looking for the one pair of pants that will make the outfit tolerable.

They’re missing.

And...she’s lost it.

I finish making lunches and try to help, but the cacophony is too much and I get agitated too. We check all the usual places, drawers, dirty laundry, machines, under her furniture… No pants. Her sister’s drawers, nothing, nothing, nothing.

Total. Epic. Meltdown.

Are you sure?
In telling my husband about our morning, he felt my use of this question to be justified.
In a way he’s right, a kid without anxiety might have said, “Yep.”

My response to him was that I wanted all of these answers to make me feel comfortable. I should have just emailed her teacher rather than grilling my kid. Which I did this morning and her teacher sent me a short reply that they were indeed going to a concert, and then to a park for lunch afterward. No signatures required.

Oh, sounds nice.

This incident got me thinking about other ways I’m sabotaging my kid.

Here are a few I came up with:

1. I Never let her Forget she has Anxiety

Nope, I’m right there every time she begins to struggle to point out that her anxiety is getting the better of her and she should do A. B. and C. to get right again.
<sarcasm> Thanks Mom.</sarcasm>

Why this is a Problem:
It reinforces the idea she’s less. Kids born with challenges like missing limbs will find astonishing ways compensate if given the space to find them. Kids without arms brush their teeth with their feet, and paint, draw, write, and feed themselves. This probably wasn’t a smooth process. It probably required extraordinary struggles and plenty of trial and error. But their parents wisely gave them the space to learn their own way and refrained from doing everything for them that they would normally use hands for.

My kid needs the same latitude. She knows she has anxiety, if I let her struggle her own way through, she’ll learn to manage, better than if I’m there telling her she struggling to brush her teeth because she has no arms and that should try using her big toe and long toe instead. "Here let me show you." If I don’t rush in to the rescue when she gets upset at her struggle, she’ll eventually learn that it’s because I know she can handle herself.

Why This is Hard to Change:
When my child is in pain, she's really, really vocal about it.  I have a biologically driven response to want to help and comfort her...and get her to be quiet.

2. I Remember her Past Struggles
Each of her epic meltdowns had burned an indelible video into my brain. Watching my kid suffer like she suffers hurts—a lot. When we come to a similar situation, I automatically start running an offense to clear the way for her.  The way a parent with a wheelchair-bound kid might ensure there are ramps and sidewalks.

Why This is a Problem:
It doesn’t account for growth. She struggled the last time, so may or may not struggle again. Struggle is the precursor to growth. I need to allow her to do that, even if it's to the detriment of my own sanity.

Why This is Hard to Change:
Sometimes I’m not even consciously aware of what I’m doing. Usually, it’s my husband that points it out, and I stop and reflect and find it’s almost always connected to a past meltdown. Her pain hurts me too.

Also, today’s world is ruthless in their judgment of parents. If I get all the obstacles out of her way, she won’t melt down and I won’t look like a bad parent.

You’re doing it right now—you’re judging me. See what I mean?

3. It’s on My Mind Constantly
If it’s on my mind and she knows. She can read me just as well as I read her.

Why This is a Problem:
She feels bad for making me feel bad.
My younger child gets the short shrift because I’m emotionally preoccupied with my explosive child, which expands the rift between them.

Why This is hard to change:
I love her. She’s a shining star in my life. I accept her as she is and love all of her. I just want to help.

I struggle to walk the line of taking care of my kids and giving them the space to grow. That line is elusive.  My girls have such different needs that present themselves in totally different ways that are both similar and dissimilar from me and my husband, and the lines changes continually as they grow.

It’s my version of the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox. The line is both there and not there until I open the box to see if I screwed up again.

This time, I killed the cat.

Sorry, kitty.

Sorry, kiddo.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Christmas Letter 2017

Some people love Christmas for the family gatherings, food, and gift giving. Some are a little bah-humbug. For me, Christmas marks the return of the light that makes things grow and flower. But these long nights are good for cozy books by the fire, sweet things baking in the oven, and for writing Christmas letters.

We lost my dad on Father’s Day this year. After being sick with a flu bug for about a week, his heart gave out during a nap. Reed and I were devastated. The love, support, and kindness of our family and friends has been incredible. We leaned on all of you and you all held us up. Thank you for that.
Part of my River family.

Clarno Unit Palisades
We took two family trips this year. In June we went to Baker City. We explored the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds (a bucket list item for me) and stayed over in Prairie City in a historic hotel. Gorgeous spot. We were surprised the next morning at 4am by an air raid siren blaring. We later found out that the siren summons volunteer firefighters. The next day brought us to Baker City, home of the Barley Brown Brewery. Berzo came down with a fever and spent most of the next two days in our hotel room wrapped in blankets watching VHS movies we borrowed from the hotel library. Boots and I explored the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which was incredible. In the hills across from the museum, you can still see the ruts from the pioneers making their way across the hills.

In July we took a camping trip to LaPine state park and explored the Newberry National Volcanic Monument with our good friends Mike and Stephanie and their son Kevin. The campground is nestled into the Deschutes River and it was bliss teaching Berzo to fish. She didn’t catch anything but demonstrated the patience, focus, and techniques of a natural fisherman. At the monument, we hiked the Lava River Cave which is the longest lava tube in Oregon. We saw the Big Obsidian Flow and several other landmarks.

On the way home, we visited Dee Wright Observatory which sits on a huge lava flow. My last visit there was on an elementary school field trip. This visit was one of those rare instances where the visit was even cooler than I remembered. The view from the top is spectacular. We also stopped at Proxy Falls. The hike was longer than I expected and the girls just weren’t up for it, so I finished it solo. I’m glad I did. It was beautiful and serene and I could feel Dad’s presence the whole time.

Despite all the wonders we saw, we left much unexplored and can’t wait to return. The Cascades were born in fire and lava and so much of that is still exposed showing us this quiet period is just a lull. The mountains are napping but still very much alive. I love this state.

This year has been one of transformations for Boots as she grows from a little girl to a young lady. She is craving independence and is starting to ask to do simple things on her own like ride her bike to the store or walk the dog. She resists guidance from me (on what to wear, eat, do—pretty much everything) and wants to find her own way. Which I find equally frustrating and awesome.

She decided not to play any sports this year, but after much coaxing, she tried an all-comers track meet during the summer. She was signed up for the 100-meter dash and 400-meter run, but only completed one after finding the starting gun to be too scary. Charley and I both enjoyed sports all throughout our childhoods and have always looked forward to cheering on our kids as they played.

One of my biggest struggles being a parent is allowing her to be who God made her to be and not who I want her to be.

Of the things she does enjoy, she goes at them full force. Her current passion is for writing. Her class participated in NaNoWriMo and she wrote over 150 pages. She is still working on this story and is well over 200 pages. For Christmas, she asked for a typewriter. Thanks to her Oma and Opa, she got her great-grandfather’s. I love hearing the keys plink-plink as she writes. She is also passionate about art. A small forest and lake of ink has been sacrificed to developing this talent. She also spends a lot of time creating funny and entertaining animations on her iPad using an app called FrameCast. She also plays a lot of Minecraft and AnimalJam. (Too much.)

This fall Boots saved her money and bought a pet rat and all the stuff. His name is Xerxes and he’s adorable. Boots has been doing a wonderful job of taking care of him and everybody in the house dotes on him, but he loves her best. He’s always climbing down from our shoulders to get back to her.

Berzo played tee-ball over the summer which was so much fun to watch. She likes school—but not that much—and is doing well. She is a joy to parent, as she is still young and malleable and a people pleaser. Although, she does have a feisty streak that she likes to exercise on her sister.  But mostly, I'm trying to enjoy my last little one before she's not so little anymore.

Berzo is also passionate about art, and our refrigerator and walls are covered in her drawings of kitty cats, some with wings, some with unicorn horns, and all are beautiful and happy. Berzo also loves Minecraft and Animal Jam (too much) and she and Boots are not above hugging each other and pleading for more “screen time” using sisterly love against my rules. It usually works too. For Christmas, she also got a pet rat and the stuff. His name is Cricket and he’s pretty dang cute too.

Charley is the supervisor of the Pattern Shop at Columbia Steel. He is still brewing beer and is in a continual state of refining and re-engineering his system to improve his process and brew. Dave and Lina produced an amazing crop of hops that he used to brew two batches of Cordray Estate Amber, which is currently on tap at Shoalwater’s. (Our garage.) We also got a smoker/BBQ this year and Charley has been having a good time smoking tuna, salmon, and different cuts of beef and pork. He even smoked our Thanksgiving turkey. It is oh-so-good and appeals to Charley’s crafting nature. It is a common (and wonderful) sight to see friends gathered around our smoker visiting, monitoring the smoker, and sipping a homebrew.

As for me, this coming March will mark a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. It doesn’t feel that long, but then again I can’t remember much from the first six or so sleep deprived years. Now that my girls are more independent, and I generally sleep OK, I’ve been able to pursue some interests. We turned the west end of our yard into a large garden. We added three new 8' x 4' raised beds, a 20-foot row of berries, (can't wait-can't wait) and a circle garden that is irrigated by a roof downspout. We disconnected it and installed a rain chain that flows into a rock-filled trench that leads into the center of the circle garden. The girls have their own garden beds and it was fun for them to plant whatever they wanted. We all got a lot of enjoyment out of the garden this year. 

Calendula Salve
Charley and I are also learning to can foods and he got us a pressure cooker for Christmas.  I have been having fun experimenting with making calendula infused oil for skin balms and lip balms.  I have also been learning about herbal remedies and recipes for using the things we're growing.

I am also continuing to train at TNT Martial Arts. This year I earned a Green Belt II. I'm also running, biking, and strength training in hopes to try another triathlon this year with Lina and Amber. Knock on wood that I stay injury free. It doesn’t take much anymore. But mostly, while the kids are at school, I have been spending my time writing. I’m working on a story that I hope will become a Middle Reader novel. It feels like writing is the talent I was given, so I’m going to develop it and see where it goes. It takes a lot of faith to make writing a priority and invest this much time not knowing if it will ever help my family financially. 

Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season!

Amy, Charley, Berzo, and Boots

Dee Wright Observatory trailhead.

Birthday fun with two wonderful women.
Oysterville girls with berry fingers.
Regatta Magic
At Tillamook Forestry Center.  Miss you pops.

Proxy Falls magic

Garden in the fall.

Rain Chain doing it's thing.

Berzo teeing-off on one. ;)

Eclipse 2017!

Eclipse Photographer

Eclipse Viewer
and two more...
Dani and Uncle Reed

Smoked Turkey—so yummy!

Charley and Opa
Lava Wolf
Oysterbar Christmas
Sumpter Gold Dredge