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

Friday, September 1, 2017

Anxiety in Kids - Part 3: Just Between Us Parents

Previous parts to this article:
Part 1:  Empathy and Calming
Part 2:  Coaching Your Kid Through Life

Show No Shame
Even if you secretly believe that you are to blame for your child's anxiety try to let it go. Parental feelings of failure communicate to your child that you believe they are somehow defective, setting off a domino effect of negative emotions. It can erode their self-confidence, exacerbating their problem by essentially becoming anxious about being anxious. Physical differences are easy to spot, we wouldn’t ask a short person to reach a high shelf without providing some scaffolding; likewise, kids with anxiety need emotional scaffolding, but since it isn’t apparent, they have to ask for it. While they are learning these skills, we need to be able to discuss anxiety with respect and openness with them and others, to show them that they can do the same as they face difficulties in life.

Inform her instructors.
Let her teachers, instructors, and coaches know that she has anxiety and what she typically does to help herself, so her calming exercises won’t be misinterpreted as not paying attention. Also, information about a specific fear can be helpful, e.g., my daughter was terrified of the diving board at the pool and was worried her instructors would make her jump. I let the instructor know she has anxiety, and my daughter asked if the diving board would be part of the lesson and said she needed to be able to to do it when she was ready. If she doesn’t pass, then she doesn’t, but she's still learning other important swimming techniques and I know she'll do it when she's ready.

Give him control.
Anxious kids need to feel in control of their situation, for example, if he’s afraid of being confined to the car during trips, let him pack a kit that includes what he needs to keep himself comfortable and distracted from the situation e.g., a tablet, crayons, paper, snacks, or whatever works.

Teach her the power of “so what”.
So what if everyone in my class is a better swimmer than me? I’m improving.
So what if I get car sick and throw-up? It washes off.
So what if I failed the test? I can study and do better next time.
So what if I never score a goal in soccer? I’m still a good defensive player.

Our anxieties often become self-fulfilling prophecies, by being scared of getting car sick, we get car sick. We get so bound-up mentally about a test that we can’t think, and fail the test. If we let go, or so-what, the fear by remembering that we can shrug off even the worst case in most scenarios, we shrug off the anxiety too. The trick is remembering (and deeply believing) that our intrinsic value as human beings is still intact no matter the outcome of a situation or performance.

Encourage him to educate himself on the topic. 
What to Do When You Worry Too Much, by Dawn Huebner, is an excellent example of a book he can work through himself, if he’s at a second-grade reading level or better. It is also a great read-aloud for younger kids. It was a relief to my daughter to know that there are enough children just like her that someone wrote a book about it. For older kids and teens, the website at is an excellent resource for self-help information.

A word for parents:
If you decide to get outside help, a professional therapist can help your family design an effective solution, and it’s a great starting point. But, nobody knows your child like you do. Listen to all advice selectively, experiment with parts that make sense, and disregard everything else. Be aware that you will need to continually refine your coaching technique as your child moves through the phases of growing up. Your child may never be anxiety free—who is really?—but with your help, he or she may learn to control it and channel that energy into a drive to excel in his or her chosen path in life.

My girl's first-day-of-school face.
The snakes of anxiety can take innumerable forms, from falling asleep at night, to school, to a birthday party, to losing sight of you in the shower—be warned if you drop by my house... Being a parent of an anxious child is often frustrating and disappointing, but remember that your child isn’t trying to give you a hard time, she’s having a hard time. (This is difficult for me--I get so frustrated!) She needs your patience and compassion. It’s amazing how many anxious situations can be diffused by saying, “There’s no rush. I’m right here if you need me.” Also, be conscientious about taking care of yourself, and work in more unscheduled time into your family’s week than you think you need.

Lastly, be kind to yourself, it feels hard because it is hard.

Resources for further reading:
  • Anxiety BC has an informative website at and another at for young people to use by themselves.
  • Go Zen at has animated videos that are helpful for younger kids as well as adolescents.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America -
  • What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety, by Dawn Huebner

I'd love for you to add your experiences and advice in the comments.  

Anxiety in Kids - Part 1: Empathy and Calming

This is the first installment of a three part series about kids growing up with an anxiety disorder. It covers the physical changes in an anxious person’s body, how to achieve understanding through empathy, and how to apply your understanding to your child’s daily struggles.


The hot days are giving way to the cool crispness of my favorite season. The trees put on their warmest colors, and the nights are brisk for cozy sleeping during the extended night. Reflecting on our summer, I see my children, slippery with sunscreen, splashing and jumping in the water. Their smiles sparkle like the sunlit water as they squeal with their special brand of joy. The one thing marring this vision is the cumbersome life vests wrapping their torsos.

My girls haven’t yet learned to swim, so I think: swim lessons. I bask in these visions as I call my six-year-old daughter over and propose the idea. Instead of excitement and anticipation—she loves water!—her eyes widen with fear, and her chest rapidly rises and falls with shallow breaths.

“Will you be there!?”

“Sure, I can watch, but you’d be in the pool with an instructor and other kids.”

She flops on the floor, her voice is grating with distress, “No. No. NOOO! I don’t want lessons!!”

“What!? Why not?”

With her eyes squeezed shut, she unleashed a hurricane of questions that blew away the pleasant scent of wet rocks and damp hair; clouds darkened the sunny picture in my mind.

“But I can’t swim! What if the other kids splash me in the eyes? What if everyone is better than me? What if I sink? Can you save me if I sink? Can I wear a life jacket? Will the pool be deep? Is the water cold? Where will I change? What if the big drain at the bottom opens up and sucks me into the abyss and the purple monkey runs away with my sparkles?! No! I don’t WANT swim lessons!”

OK, the purple monkey thing was mine, but that’s how it all sounds to me.

I make the same mistake I've made countless times and try to reassure her, “You’ll be fine. They would never let a student drown.” But her panic only deepens. That’s because I have an anxious child. She gets this way whenever we are fording to new territory. If this sounds familiar to you, you may have one too. We’re in good company, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that close to 10 percent of children and adolescents struggle with one of the many forms of anxiety. The good news is that there are effective ways to coach your children to learn skills for managing their anxiety, whether it is General Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, Social Anxiety, or one of the other flavors.

What’s Going On?

The culprit is a part of our brain called the amygdala. In response to alarming stimuli, the amygdala triggers the fight or flight response, charging the body with adrenaline. This releases sugar into the bloodstream, which speeds up the heart and breathing, and opens airways to fuel the muscles and the brain with oxygen.

The amygdala acts automatically, without checking with the logic centers of the brain. For our primal ancestors, that threat might have looked like a prowling lion; whereas my daughter’s lion is a pool of water, an instructor, and five other six-year-olds waiting their turn to practice forward strokes and long legs.

For people with an anxiety disorder, the amygdala is overactive, firing life or death responses when facing daily challenges, new situations, or sometimes for no overt reason. It is similar to the way the immune system of a person with a peanut allergy responds to contact with a peanut. It is an inappropriate and automatic response by one of the body's protective systems.

I'm not giving you a hard time.
I'm HAVING a hard time!
All of us experience anxious moments, but it becomes a disorder when the anxiety controls the person's decision making and/or the constant strain of daily anxiety affects their physical health.

The amygdala may not check with logic centers, but our logic centers can check our amygdala. First, my daughter must recognize what’s happening in her body, use her calming techniques, then, usually later, work through the issue that caused the anxiety. It is a difficult skill set, but it gets easier with practice. Lately, I’ve noticed she doesn’t have to work so hard to control her anxiety, and fewer situations (or suggestions) trigger the flight or fight response. This confidence is powerful; more powerful than the imaginary beasties that lurk in the shadows of her mind.

How is this done?

The first task was to understand how she’s feeling.

I am afraid of snakes. When they surprise me, I have a strong fear response. However, I don’t have anxiety so I can quickly regain control. When she started getting scared about something that seemed silly to me, I would imagine a room with several loose snakes hiding out in the furniture, and someone pressuring me to go in there.

OK, I get it.

This exercise brought to light several points about how to work with her when she’s anxious.

Point 1: Don’t shame me for my fear, I can’t help it.

Point 2: Change is hard.
Sure, some form of snake fear therapy could help, but I don’t want to. Facing a fear is uncomfortable and difficult.

Point 3: I need control of the process.
If I needed to seek snake-fear therapy, it would need to be on my terms. If you tried to decide for me and pushed me into a room of snakes (even cute little harmless ones) and closed the door, I would hate you for ever. Period.

Point 4: I want to be equipped before I face my snake.
I would want to learn and be prepared with calming techniques beforehand and know that I could go at a pace that felt safe, even if it took years.

Point 5: This is for my benefit, not yours.
My fear response to snakes might seem silly or exasperating to you, but I would need to confront this issue for me. The worry of disappointing someone else would make the pressure unbearable and almost ensure failure.

How to apply these points to a child:

Resist the urge to reassure. A crucial part of this process is to abandon attempts to reassure your child. His body is readying him for a fight to the death, telling him to calm down, that it’s just a friendly little snake (or imaginary) doesn’t help. Instead, describe what you see with genuine concern, “You’re breathing really fast and your eyes are wide. You must be really worried.” Then reflect his fear back to him, so he knows that you know there’s a snake there—you know? This practice also creates awareness of his physical responses to anxiety, so he can eventually recognize it and head off the process on his own.

Inducing physical calm. Practice belly breathing through the nose, clenching and releasing muscles, prayer, and/or meditation. These techniques can help a child to shut off the flight or fight response. Following up with a physical activity is a great way to discharge the remaining adrenaline to prevent it from causing the typical anxious child tummy ache or headache.

Distraction. Before his mind can return to what caused the anxiety, coach him to engage in a mental distraction, e.g. reading, or playing a mental game like trying to remember the alphabet backward, or counting by threes, until he feels in control.

Make a list.
Once your child has refined a process that works, suggest making a list for her to keep in her pocket or backpack. It’s difficult to think clearly when under duress, and a familiar list of things to do can help be confident that she can regain control.

Recognize her effort.
If you see her belly breathing or mumbling numbers in order to induce calm, once she's regained control, notice her efforts in the same way you would with a great report card or a three-point shot.  

That’s it for now. Let that soak in then come back for the next segment in which we will explore coaching techniques to help our children work through difficult situations.

I'd love for you to add your experiences and advice in the comments.