Sometimes when uncles take nieces to the park they forget important things, like the bag with the hats and sunscreen in them.

 However, with just a little bit of ingenuity, those nieces won't get a sunburn after all.

Thanks uncle Levi.


9 years old

You drew Obi Wan and General whatshisface fighting on your cake yourself.

Dear Boy,

May I just begin by saying I really like you right now? I wasn't sure I'd be able to say that not so long ago. What with the hundreds of ear splintering noises you have perfected and the attitude you were trying on for size I was bracing myself to knuckle in and endure until you reached a more pleasant age, like 30. But you have suddenly grown into a much more thoughtful person, almost over night. You just needed to be given something useful to do.

I like the way you are so proud of your ability to make meaningful contributions to this little family of ours. I like it when you plot for the future, how you will make money to help the kids in Thailand, how you will drive your little brother around so I don't have to, how you will open a boat shop and build and sell the green land kayak and maybe some other types of kayaks. You will paint a sign to put out front calling it simply "Boy's Boat Shop". Though you will use your real name of course.

I love your sweetness, your naivete. I like how when the older neighborhood boys get to talking about girls and you tell me about it you smile a little embarrassed smile and hesitate, not sure what to do with this unfamiliar subject matter.

This year for your birthday you asked for books. "I want books that teach me stuff, because I like to learn things, like about ancient Egypt, or the ocean. I also want to learn how to make things, and I would like some small screwdrivers to help me make things. I might need a hammer too. Or maybe uncle Alex will make me a sword, or something out of Lego."

Your idea for when friends came for a party was to all play board games together in the living room.

Yesterday when I was at a loss for what to do with you for the half hour left of school I handed you the gigantic Handbook of Nature, hundreds of pages, black and white photos, and said, "Here, you may read anything you like out of this book for the next half hour."

You actually shouted, "Really? Woohoo! Thanks mom."

Then you interrupted me over and over to tell me about the life cycle of monarch butterflies, how grasshopper ears aren't even on their heads and that katydids have ears in their legs. (See, I listen.) You are such a nerd and I love you for it. Sometimes I worry that you will have trouble later for being the way you are, but I think in the long run you will be better for it.

You are a natural leader and organize the play a lot of the time. You are usually very good at making sure everyone, even the littlest kids feel included. This move has been a challenge for you. The boys are older, the language and culture is different from what you are used to, you have run into misunderstandings and your feelings have been hurt.

I am so proud of the way you keep trying to make friends with these boys, and the way you are succeeding. I like how even when you come home in tears because of something that happened you are ready to go back out and try again just a few minutes later.

You are such a good teacher. You like nothing better than to show someone else how to do something you have mastered. I love to hear you cheer for your sisters when they win a game you are all playing or the way you come running to me all excited to tell me about something cool they have done.

You are not without your talents though Boy. You can pick out a tune almost effortlessly, you draw remarkably well and with great detail, you remember just everything you have ever read.

You are becoming a huge help to me also. You can get basic meals for yourself and others. I like it when you offer to make me breakfast, that mixture of pride and thoughtfulness is just heart melting. You are the best big brother. You know exactly what to do to distract and entertain your sisters. and they love you for it. (You also know exactly what to do to bother them, but you do that less frequently.)

You still want me to see and approve everything you do. You tell me endlessly about the thought process that led you to solve a problem the way you did. Your inner monologue is still very audible.

I don't know how much longer you will be this sweet, and earnest, and sincere, which makes me treasure it all the more right now.

I pray for you to grow in strength, in wisdom, in the ability to choose what is best for you to do out of the many good things you could put your hand to.

I love you always. I like you a whole lot. I am so thankful for you. Happy birthday.

your mama


On Leaving

When I was a teenager growing up in a small town in Canada my only thought was to escape. I was going to leave this place behind. I was going to go to exciting places, I was going to accomplish interesting and important things and I was going to show them all that I was special, and different. So I was basically like every other teenager out there in that respect.

When I couldn't escape physically I did mentally through books, reinforcing the castles my imagination built of what my life would be.

I went some places, did a few things, though not as far as I hoped to. So it was a bonus that the man I married had a hearty dislike of the Canadian cold and loved to travel.  We were going to go places together and do things. With hardly a backward glance I bid my family and friends farewell and left my hometown for good, a visit or two notwithstanding.

We've still not been all that far together. But then we had kids, and as they grew so did our desire to have them know a larger family than just the two of us. When Aaron finished school we decided to move closer to extended family. His was in California, mine in the middle of rural Alberta. Between the economy at that time, and the climate, and some other factors sprinkled here or there, we are now Californians and our kids know all about sunscreen and think mittens are novelty items that you wear only for that one time a year you go to an indoor skating arena to teeter around on the pockmarked ice.

We're still working toward moving to Thailand, more or less permanently, when our presence there is of more value to the people we are helping than it is here.

Yet, last week I bought a plane ticket. I am going home for Christmas. Back to the town I grew up in and the people I left behind.

When I was young I never thought my choices would lead me to the life I have. I didn't expect to be a stay at home mom and live an essentially domestic life. But that is where my heart has led me and it's a good place to be.

What is hard is doing this so far away from my family.

My brother and sister both had baby girls last year, nieces whom I have never met. My kids have cousins they don't know, and aren't likely to ever get to know very well given the distance.

I listen to the soundbites of their lives on the other end of the phone and wish they were close enough to drop by for dinner, that my sister could hang out in my kitchen with me while our kids played, and vice versa. I wish I knew my siblings better, and their spouses, who they met after I left. Social media is great, but it's no substitute for the kind of getting to know you conversation that takes place in the same room over tea or a meal.

My grandparents are getting on. I come from hardy stock, but the decade between 90-100 is pushing it. I don't want to pay to fly up for a funeral and wish I had spent the money on at least one more visit instead.

My mom is having surgery and will be still in the hospital Christmas day.

There are so many friends still there.

There are cousins who were toddlers still when I left home that are now facebook friends. I have no idea who these giant adult strangers are. I baby sat the guy with a house and a girlfriend trying to sell his car. I rubbed the baby backs of boys who are now men. I made teeny tiny dolly beds for girls who are now having babies of their own. They don't know me any more, and I don't know them.

I love Aaron's family. It is such a blessing to have them close. The hours we spend with them and the once a week sleepovers are good and my kids are getting a rich heritage this way.

But I miss my family. More than I ever expected to, honestly.

As I was telling all this to Aaron last week he told me to look up plane tickets, and to act like I was going to buy one. He told me to go for Christmas, which is when they entire huge clan gets together to celebrate. (Grandpa rents a church hall for the day now. We outgrew the addition he put on their house when I was little.)

So I am taking Jellybean and going home and it kills me. I'm excited, I'm looking forward to a break and to seeing everyone. I am leaving my 3 older kids behind.
outtakes from a family photo session for my grandparents
 (Have you seen the price of plane tickets these days? Yikes!) I will meet my nieces, but they won't meet their big cousins. My kids still won't know the people I talk about in photos. They will be without me for 6 days. I know their Beema and aunts and uncles and Aaron will take care of them and they will have fun, but it sucks to be apart from them.

There is no way to reconcile these two parts of my life right now. No way to bridge the distance and close up all the gaps. This ticket feels like such a temporary solution that I almost didn't bother buying it. My mouse hovered over the checkout button for a long time while I debated with myself.

But I need to go. It's important. So I am going. It's the best I can do right now.


When Emotions are Tyrants.

Her face is still red and splotchy from crying as she calls out cheerily, "Good night Mama. Have a good sleep." It's the only trace left of the seemingly endless crying jag she was indulging in not that long ago and I have to ask.

"Are you ok sweetie. Is your heart alright?"

"Yeah mama. Why are you asking me?"

"Because I can still see your tears on your face and I want to make sure you're ok."

In this moment I doubt myself. Was I too harsh? Am I ruining her somehow with my lack of empathy?

First she cried because she hadn't gotten to hold her baby brother yet, cried and wailed while I paced with him screaming, exhausted and needing his mama and sleep and I wouldn't give his rigid body over to a 6 year old to let her try and calm him. I told her she was being selfish, thinking only of her wants rather than his needs. I told her to leave the room if she couldn't control herself and rebuffed her attempts cling to me for sympathy as I held a baby and needed to walk.

Then she cried because it was too late for a story. Really she cried because she was tired.

It feels wrong, for me, to send a crying child away, counter instinctive to me to refuse her request for affection when she is in such a state.

Sometimes I doubt.

But I don't want to indulge her when she's like this, self absorbed, emotional, out of control. I am firm, mostly. I expect her to control herself. I don't want to coddle her feelings and allow her to go on indulging herself with emotional outbursts when what she needs is self control.

Other times, when she starts screaming and yelling, for example because I put the beans on top of the rice rather than beside, I see that reaction in her for what it is, a temper tantrum, plain and simple.

I give her the choice to be quiet and eat or remove herself. She goes into the bedroom and throws herself on the floor kicking and screaming and I ignore her except to remind her that she must control herself and her emotions first, then she may join us and eat.

It's a hard lesson, one I had to learn late in life. I want to spare her the pain of undoing years of bad habits by working with her now.

I don't remember anyone ever explaining to me as a child that feelings were just feelings, information, and not something that I should fling around wildly just because I had them. I don't remember anyone insisting that I control myself or there would be consequences, though it must have happened in some measure.

I do know that it wasn't until adulthood that I learned to weigh my emotional responses first before acting on them... most of the time.

I know now that hormones, diet, sleep, and brain chemistry affect me a lot and just because I feel that a thing is so does not make it so.

I want to give her the gift of peace, in her self and in her relationships, and that comes in part from not being cast about by the once a month feelings that cast the entire rest of the month in a negative light, and from considering the facts of a person's actions or words above the emotional response to them. I want her life to be free of self constructed drama.

So I make myself cold against her waxing hysteria, and warm when it wanes. I respond to her tired and hungry outbursts with firm expectations that she exercise self-control and choose to eat or sleep, whatever is needed. And I tell her what no woman likes to hear, but all of us must understand, "You feel this way because your body needs rest, food, or a day or two for the hormones to calm down."

I tell her that her emotions are are largely products of chemical reactions, and though they may be true responses, she needn't allow them to rule over her life.

Really, isn't it something we all need to learn?


One Thousand Gifts-Week 52

holy experience

It's hard to keep this list going when I'm weary, work is piling up, I feel behind, and situations have me discouraged. It's when I feel like quitting and just hiding in a hole somewhere for a while that I most need to look up and see the gifts all around. So I am trying to do that. Here are a few.


One of my very best friends is coming next month to visit for a week. It's fun to look forward to it.

The Girl laughing as Grace sprays her with the garden hose.

A quiet afternoon to focus on a specific project.

The return of Beema and the aunts and uncles from their month away.

A table full of children engrossed in drawing.

Pigeons in flight.

Quiet, unhurried conversation with the man I married.

The girls with heads bent together over a single coloring book page they are coloring together.

Noticing again how very good the Boy is at drawing.

Jellybean's face when he stands on my lap.

Diapers hanging in a row on the clothesline.

Roasted cauliflower with butter.

All the kids in bed together reading.

The Boy's plans for his birthday party next week. (Breakfast sausage and waffles for dinner.)

How loved I am.

Little carrying her "little baby puppy" around in her sling.

The Girl puts food on my plate for me while I'm holding Jellybean.

Clouds shaped like horses.

Jellybean yells and grunts like a boy.

The gratitude community is here.



It’s a tricky thing to get it right.
Pull it tight
Let it slide
Keep it consistent
Always consistent

I help her unravel snarled purple mess again
Straighten tangles
Lay smooth her twists and turns

“Try again, this time
don't let go.”

Phone rings
Another tangle

Do I pull her tight?
Let it slide?

I take a deep breath
Keep it consistent
Always consistent

It's a tricky thing
to get it right.


The Mamas and the Papas

I went to a book reading on Saturday. Correction, I READ at a book reading this past Saturday. (That sentence was so much fun to type.)

I think I was expecting more of a book store or library sort of reading. You know, the kind with a few chairs arranged at the side and a bunch of people still milling around and talking nearby. Imagine my surprise to find it happening in a theater, with a stage and such. When is the last time you saw a lot of people in an auditorium to listen to someone read out loud? That alone was awesome. The quality of the stuff read however was impressive, and I quickly saw how much of an honor it is to be one of the people included.

The selections varied from really stunning sparse poetry to funny essays on being a soccer mom, and then of course there was me spilling my guts out, as I do.

I know I already told you about The Mamas and the Papas: On the sublime and heartbreaking art of parenting as the anthology that I contributed to and have a byline in because, hey, a byline, who wouldn't be excited. (Though if they let me into it it can't be that big a deal. I mean, I still half believe that you all come around to read everyday out of pity.)

Now I'm going to tell you about this book as something you really need to buy if you like to read well written books. Every page I've turned to at random has either made me laugh out loud, moved me almost to tears or left me with chills because it's so beautifully written. Be sure to check out the poem by Susan Webb titled Wild Sweet William which she read on Saturday and I completely forgot to tell her how much I enjoyed it. I've re-read it 5 or 6 times since then I like it so much. If you were all here right now I would make you listen to it, but you'll just have to get the book instead.

My friend Chris Baron says his goal has been to write non-cheesy poems about his kids. I think he has succeeded. He prefaced his reading by talking about how he's been writing poetry for years but he never really felt the need for it before having children and trying to capture the little moments before they slip by. He's so right I wonder I didn't think of it before. In fact, I've been inspired to write poetry again. I may post one I wrote this week. Not that it's as good as Chris or Susan's, but I like the immediacy of it. Chris's poem snools is also something you should check out.

This book is like having the very best of all the parent blogging posts rolled into one volume. The editors, Alys Masek and Kelly Mayhew, whom it was a pleasure to meet, have done a great job of compiling some excellent writing into one handy book, made out of paper. (Remember that stuff?) So you can sit outside and read it without a screen nearby.

This blurb says it well,
You won’t pick up much down-and- diaper-dirty, hands-on info from MAMAS AND PAPAS. Just soul-wrenching (and gut-busting) missives from the front lines,
dispatched by very, very good writers . . .--Arthur Salm
In conclusion, you should get your hands on this book, and maybe an extra copy as a gift. Christmas is coming.

full disclosure: I don't get a single cent from promoting this book. Sales support City Works Press


One Thousand Gifts-Week 51 Autumn

holy experience

Still counting...

When Aaron came home

he brought the Boy Muy Thai boxing shorts
glancing outside to see the Boy reading to the girl in the Sukkah

the Sukkah

folded jumping frogs on paper lily pads

a fresh from the bath baby snuggled in a fleece sleeper

we made graham cracker sukkahs too
 plastic tarp stirring in the wind, the sound comforts, brings back memories of camping in the rain

the first rain of autumn

Children dancing as the drops come down

talk, laughter and time with my big girl

an afternoon away

I came home to fed bathed and sleeping kids. My husband is awesome!

Cup of tea

blustery weather

kids happily creating stuff together

sleeping baby

the smell of rain

hot soup

couch snuggles

the boy narrating Winnie the Pooh


a good night's sleep

the morning wind through my bedroom window smelled like ocean

Little yelling triumphantly, "I DID IT!" with every loop while learning to finger knit.

Jellybean grins.

 Tired Little asleep on the floor mid-afternoon

back yard fires in the evening

Warm pajamas fresh from the dryer

the gratitude community is here.
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