Thursday, June 06, 2013

School's out!

This school year has been one of the most challenging I can remember. Two years ago, when Jimmy was in second grade, it was particularly tough because I had two miscarriages between November and June, which laid me flat both physically and emotionally for a lot of months. But with Audrey starting Kindergarten, this was the first year with two kids at the school table, and wow, it was a big adjustment for all of us.

Thankfully, I've reached a place where I feel completely confident in both my teaching and organizational abilities, and so it gave me the chance to focus on stepping up my game and really engaging with my children on a new level.

When I gave Jimmy his last journal assignment for the school year, I asked him to write about his four favorite things he learned this year. I'm giving myself the same assignment, so in no particular order, here's what I learned during 2012-2013:

1) Old dogs can (and should) learn new tricks. All year long, I've been coming up against the realization that for so many reasons, I need to stop yelling at my kids. So, with a little help from an amazing gal known as Orange Rhino, I'm doing just that. I still struggle, I still yell, but I'm only a couple months into this new trick and already I'm yelling less. It's making a huge difference for me and my kids. Even better, I dialogue with them about why I'm doing what I'm doing and they're helping me while they see me modeling this willingness to change.

2) I'm the expert on my kids. I'm sure you're thinking, well, duh. But starting out with a virtual academy--while it's been lovely having someone to give us guidance and hold us accountable--has allowed me to defer to others as knowing better what my kids might need or what curriculum might be best or what learning plan we should follow. Over the past couple of years, I've been putting the pieces together and finally feeling like if we had to fly solo (which we may have to do because of legislation in Olympia that will reform alternative learning experiences like CVA), I could do it. I could do it because I know what areas my kids are strong in, what they struggle with, how they learn, and how to teach them.

3) Kids are spiritual creatures. This year I've shifted some of my focus to providing a spiritual touchstone as an integral part of our learning day. For us this means we have a devotional each morning before we start school work. Doing this helps me and the kids to be more calm and centered before we dive into doing stuff that challenges us and trying to get along with each other while everyone is working at the table together. We also created an art area and did a fine arts course as part of our curriculum this year. It was amazing: seeing art, learning about it, creating it. Art feeds the soul.

4) I love my children. I already knew this, but I found I need to keep learning it all over again, every day. Sometimes I get so focused in on what needs to be done--the lessons we need to get through--that I lose sight of the why. And then things get adversarial: when I'm focused on checking off the subjects on our list, instead of tuning in my children's needs and how I can meet them, it's me against them instead of us learning together. If I go on autopilot and forget to be mindful of that overarching feeling of love, it all falls apart. I fall apart.

And now, I'm off to make another list... of things to do over the summer!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NaPoWriMo #11: april

Spring Stream

Susurrating voice
water singing through stones will
coax the tender leaves.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

NaPoWriMo #9: un-love poem

I needed a little inspiration this morning, so I headed over to again and found a prompt to write an un-love poem. A few days ago, I had started rolling ideas around in my head for a love poem (see the previous post), and I had to get that out of my system before I could write its opposite.

Untitled Un-love Poem

You are the barn cat
who steals into the house
just to leave her mark
who allows her kittens to suckle
only as she lies sleeping
who catches no mice
but expects to be fed
who bears litter after litter
after litter
who is no more or less to blame
than those who let you keep on
doing what you do.

NaPoWriMo #8: love poem

Your Hands

I love
how your hands
are you
nails trimmed close
but not bitten to the quick
skin firm over tendons, muscles
palms and fingers calloused but gentle
a splash of freckles that would be
invisible on skin less pale
boyish on hands less capable

how they make
a meal, a poem, a home
how they fix
a book, a bike, a skinned knee
how they smell like soap
or sawdust
or sometimes

how they tear apart, strip away
and create something better than before
how they throw a child into the air
and cradle him back to earth
how they fix what is broken
and wait for what cannot be fixed

how they are always moving
holding, healing
touching, teaching

how they warm me when I am cold
lift me when I have fallen
and open a jar of pickles
when my own hands fail me.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

NaPoWriMo #6-7: valediction

I've been sick for over a week now, and while I soldiered bravely on for the first few days, I finally ran out of poetic steam. I just needed a few less things to worry about, so I could rest up and recoup. Today I'm feeling about 75-80%, which is progress enough to put me back in the saddle.

That, and after reading the prompt from the good folks at, I had to get the images out of my head that kept me up last night a little longer than I would have liked. See, the prompt was "valediction", and when I had a chance to sit with it and allow images and ideas to unfold, the place it took me was a memory from last year, when Jim and I took the kids to Spokane for the day.

As we were driving home, we saw a mother duck trying to lead her ducklings across the freeway. I have no idea how she had gotten them to the other side, but by the time we saw them, most of her babies had already been hit by passing cars. In the moment we witnessed it, Jim and I made a mute agreement not to call the kids' attention to the scene. This was something they would not be ready to see. One of our favorite bedtime books has been Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey, a charming tale of a duck family who takes up residence in Boston. In one scene, the mother duck leads her little ones to safety under the watchful protection of police officers, who keep the cars at bay while the ducks cross the road to their home.

No, this was something my children would not be ready to see.

So, I went at this poem from two different directions: first, a tanka; then, free verse. For now, both are untitled.


Mother duck: a brown
buoy bobs in a sea of cars with
no way to guide her
small fleet to safety in the
tempest of rush-hour traffic.


She waits on the left shoulder
her fuzzy brood still strung across the median
then, when they have caught up
she darts out into the roadway
and one
             by one
                        the ducklings
                                              follow her
within seconds, the first two are crushed
by rush-hour traffic
suddenly, the mother duck
seems aware of the danger
when it is already too late
when five more downy, flightless babies
have already followed her
another down
then another.

The cars in front of us slow, briefly
and as if in slow motion
I see it unfolding:
dappled brown wings flapping in panic
and a scattered row of small bodies
flattened into the asphalt
feathers ruffled by the breezy wake
of passing cars
I grab my husband’s arm
and he swerves
to miss the last three ducklings.

For the rest of the ride, I’m stricken
tears falling uncontrollably
for the mother
now standing back beside the road
unable to leave her fallen babies
unable to lead the ones who still live
back to her nest.

Friday, April 05, 2013

NaPoWriMo #5: insomnia


Memories tinctured with moonlight
their silver-gilt edges curled, spindled
dog-eared pages of life’s volume
long forgotten on a shelf
until a pale beam falls across its spine
and sleepless, I recollect scenes
that seem no more than dreams
grown too faded to compete
with the shiny present’s noise and brilliance,
but in this place between waking and sleep
the past is now
and I remember.

NaPoWriMo #4: nostalgia

Drinks at the Christmas Café

The last half of my first grade year
we lived with my mother’s parents
their home overlooking Puget Sound
my mom, dad and four kids under seven
packed sardine-like
in a basement bonus room
with pine paneling and a dry bar

the liquor cabinet had been relocated
to safer climes upstairs
but the shelves behind the bar
remained populated with teacups
shot glasses, saltshakers, vases
crystal-hung candlesticks, figurines
and a porcelain Christmas tree
with electric lights

my family moved into a rental
before I started second grade
but by then I had already found my place
as proprietor and hostess extraordinaire
of the Christmas Café
open Sunday afternoons
with special sleep-over hours

in my little world within itself
patrons sipped their drinks
perched on woven-rope barstools
Stevie Wonder sang Sir Duke
on the transistor radio
hand-lettered menus announced our specials
(Cheetos and dry-roasted peanuts)
and the drink of the house
(homemade lemonade
garnished with fresh mint
and strawberries in season)
ginger ale and cranberry juice
available upon request

Nana gave me the run of her ornaments
tinsel, garlands and lights
kept me stocked in lemonade, peanuts, Cheetos
colored toothpicks and swizzle sticks
and in the off hours I cozied up to Grandpa
in the brown vinyl Barcalounger
watching NHL, Wild Kingdom
Barney Miller and ballet

when I was nine I learned
the meaning of passed away
saw a stranger in a casket
wearing Grandpa’s tie
with the watercolor seagulls
we still had sleepovers
but Nana got up early
cooked the eggs and bacon, while Max
their long-suffering German shepherd
wagged his tail, hoping for a handout

within a year, someone broke in
stole Grandpa’s distinguished flying cross
along with some cash and jewelry
Nana moved to a condo
a few miles away
and so ended the Christmas Café

a few years ago I was in town, drove by
the house is unrecognizable from the street
and I can only wonder
if it still has a bonus room in the basement
with dry bar and pine paneling.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

NaPoWriMo #3: social media

I have a love-hate relationship with the internet in general and social media in particular. I love how easy it is to keep in touch with my family, who have spread out in an ever-expanding manner. I love how easy it is to find facts, recipes, and educational resources. I'm finding lately, though, that I have much to regret: hours that I waste online, rather than being engaged with my family; how I allow my expectations for myself and those around me to be skewed by standards so completely disconnected with reality. It would be easy to make a break if it weren't for the benefits, so I'm struggling to find a balance.

Today I read a post on Segullah, a blog for Mormon women, about how we present ourselves on the internet. It articulated nicely some of my main complaints about social media, and (somewhat surprisingly) inspired today's poem. It was interesting to me that many readers claimed to have no problem with viewing others' posts, pins or status reports and feeling jealous or perceiving them as trying to appear superior. So maybe it's just a few of us with weak character that struggle with it--on the other hand, I know I'm not the only one amongst my acquaintance because recently a good friend shared a link on Facebook to this blog post about how social media informs the way some of us feel like we are expected to go overboard in the way we celebrate holidays. Not that I agree with the entire post, but it raises interesting issues. Do I feel the need to compete with others to show I'm "doing it right"?

Lest you think I'm casting stones, I freely admit to thinking almost all of the things I say below--so this is an indictment of myself, if you will.

Reality Check

It’s a big, bad, braggety brag-brag world
out there
in the rarified air
of the social media stratosphere
full of tweets, reviews, pins, pix and posts

my kids are smarter than
my boyfriend is hotter than
my house is neater than
my lunch is tastier than
my garden is greener than
my outfit is cuter than
my carbon footprint is smaller than
my recipe is better than
my cat is fluffier than
my crafts are more clever than

please pay attention to
who my friends are
what politician I support
where I went to high school
what products I use
where I went for dinner last night
what I ate
who I’m engaged to
what game I’m playing
where I shop
who’s on my blog roll
what I’m wearing
where I went for spring break
why this movie star is hot
and that celebrity is an idiot
and oh, yes
how cute my baby is

I’m so much more
frugal fertile
funny fashionable
clever creative
connected compassionate
sweet skinny sincere
socially aware
political progressive
healthy intelligent
(and did I mention well-read?)
than you

some days it’s exhausting
just hitting the on button
but the part that gets me
where it hurts
is I allowing myself to get sucked in
to buy into it, all of it
every time the voice in my head
responds with
oh yeah?
instead of good
good for you
every time I don’t just walk away
every time I post or repin or share
something that I think will make me
look even better
every time I try to edit
or tweak
or crop
or spin
or photoshop
just to outdo someone else’s standard
of how things should be
I’m making it my own
impossibly high bar for being

who do I think I’m fooling?
that big, bad world
or myself?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

NaPoWriMo #2: acrostic

I went a bit nuts here, but it was hard to limit myself to just one word per letter on the subject in question.


Chaos, cheesy, curious, cherish, clever, change, cheeky, crayons, cry, cuddles, crawl, choosy, concrete, careful, crafty, calm, courteous, chickenpox, compassion, creativity, cunning, conflict, chatty, complex, camping, cheerful, comics, conscious, cats, cooperate

Happy, honest, helpful, hugs, humbling, heart, hilarious, handprints, home, haircuts, high-spirited, harmony, hunger, handkerchiefs, hardy, hurry, haven, headache, hotdogs, heaven, honey, hijinks, holidays, hygiene, hiccups, hand-me-downs, heritage, hope

Innocence, intuitive, inquisitive, important, imaginative, infuriating, intelligence, ice cubes, itchy, intensity, inadequate, informant, impressionable, innovate, intrepid, impish, independent, impulsive, indebted, ingenious, imperfect, inspiration, insects, intangible

Labor, laughter, loud, learn, legs, lullaby, laundry, lively, lesson, likable, lucky, lava, limber, lavish, linear, loyal, lilting, loquacious, listen, library, life, limits, literal, longing, loving, lucid, lyrical, lunacy, lemonade, loopy, loss, leap (before you) look, longsuffering

Determined, deep, diapers, dirt, dedication, delicate, daredevil, discipline, dear, delicious, dreams, drawing, dandelions, dinner, devotion, driven, discovery, dinosaurs, development, diligence, drama, delight, discern, demanding, defend, deprived (of sleep)

Rowdy, running, reading, restless, real, reasons, receptive, relax, routine, rollicking, respectful, responsive, rude, rapid, ready, road-trip, rewarding, renewal, rocks, reliant, ride, resourceful, rigorous, ridiculous, rip, roller-skating, ripe, rebellious, romp, replete

Expecting, eager, effervescent, enervation, excitement, endurance, enthusiasm, engaged, elbows, extreme, entertaining, emergency, education, expressive, eloquent, embarrassment, exhausting, empathy, exacting, energy, excel, exploration, evolve, eternal

New, nurture, needs, nose-kisses, now, nursing, nonsense, nest, no, nape, nuggets, noble, nap, naïve, naughty, nightmares, nutty, normal, natter, notebooks, nimble, naked, noisy, neurotic,  nightlight, nose-picking, nebulous, necessity (is the mother of invention)

Monday, April 01, 2013

NaPoWriMo #1: sick kids

How ironic that as I look back to the last time I did NaPoWriMo (2011), the first poem I posted was inspired by Audrey having stomach flu. 'Tis the season, I guess: she's had a cold for most of the past week, and now Joe and I are sick, too. Sadly, Sunday didn't feel much like Easter to me, since the kids and I stayed home from church to rest and recoup.

It's always hard when babies are sick because they don't understand why they feel miserable, only that they do. I've been spending a lot of the time laying on the couch with Joe, rocking him to sleep so he can have some relief. I might enjoy getting to cuddle him more, if I didn't feel so lousy myself. The silver lining was a bit of poetic inspiration.


A golden afternoon
promises of summer in the wings
I am aware, just barely
of two older children
laughing somewhere outside
while I am stretched out on the couch
with my youngest
resting his sweaty head on my shoulder
his hair plastered to my cheek

after almost an hour
of me rocking, wiping his runny nose
of him squirming, coughing fretfully
he has finally fallen asleep
one clammy hand wrapped round
a fistful of my hair
I breathe in, but only half-way
because if I let my lungs fill
it will tickle my scratchy throat
then my coughing
will set him off coughing again, too
so I breathe shallow, shift my legs slow
so as not to wake him

my step-mother
who has no children of her own, says
I don’t know how you do it
how you care for them
when you are sick

at first I think
I don’t know how I do it
but as my mind drifts between dreams
and waking I see
the question is all wrong

and when I know
the right question

I can feel the answer
in the intricate web
of wrinkles, scars and callouses
that cover my hands

I can read the answer
in the braille of my baby’s spine
as I run my finger lightly over the vertebrae
beneath the thin knit of his shirt

I can hear the answer
as I finally float off
to the rollicking harmony of laughter
and roller skates grinding down the sidewalk:

this is what I do.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

NaPoWriMo? I know, I know. It's been a long time since I've actually posted, let alone posting poetry. In spite of--and perhaps because of--being incommunicado for so long, I'm quite excited for NaPoWriMo this year. For the past three weeks, I've been working on a fiction project (but that's another post) and after a very long time away from writing, I'm starting to get back into a routine again. My project is going well enough I think a month-long detour won't derail it, so I'm ready for the challenge.

Wait--did I just say that? Why yes, yes I did.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2013: a sourdough odyssey

Okay, so that may be a bit sweeping and dramatic--but the last few weeks have certainly been a delicious odyssey. Since my first foray into sourdough baking in December, I've baked four more batches, making incremental progress each time. The wonderful thing is, even when things go wrong, the bread has still tasted great.

My second attempt, a few days after the first, yielded a slightly more browned crust, thanks to a slower, longer rise. The loaves were soft and tasty, but still lacking a tangy sourdough flavor, so I went back to the sourdough blogs. Sourdough Home's "starter primer" in particular was quite helpful, as was Wild Yeast's post about raising a starter.

I learned I had been mistaken in thinking my starter wasn't the problem; a "starter" technically begins as a "culture", and then as it becomes healthy and established, it begins to develop the distinctive sour taste. Mine, only a few days old when I first used it, was far from being a starter--it was still a culture and as such, needed to be fed and tended until it could double itself in a twelve-hour period. Knowing that, I put off more baking to work on getting my starter going.

Rather than going back to the beginning and making an entirely new starter from scratch, I just took what I had out of the refrigerator (which is where the instructions in The Tightwad Gazette said to store it) and started feeding it per the instructions in Sourdough Home's starter primer. In order to keep it in the warm temperature range recommended by the primer, I stored it in the warmest place in my kitchen: on top of the fridge. Finally, at the beginning of this week, my starter was doubling itself every twelve hours, so I felt ready for another try.

I baked attempt #3 on Tuesday morning. At long last, sourdough flavor and a browned crust! I made a batard (oval loaf) and a boule (round loaf), but my dough ball, and later the loaves, developed a hardened "skin" during the rises. So for my fourth attempt, the next day, I baked a single loaf in a loaf pan and experimented with spritzing the towel that covered the dough with water while it rose. Still pretty dry, but getting closer.

Today was my fifth attempt. I spritzed the dough with vegetable oil during the first rise, covered it loosely with plastic wrap, and spritzed it with oil again after shaping it into a loaf and letting it rise a second time. This worked well to prevent the dried skin on the dough, although I think halving the recipe (which I did just for the sake of not having too much bread on hand) didn't make quite enough dough for the size of bread pan I used.

My latest loaf still tastes wonderful, though, and makes lovely sandwiches that my kids gobble up!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

A house in order

I've been meaning to post for a while, but having been sick off and (mostly) on since Thanksgiving, something had to give. Blogging was only one of several casualties.

Around the last time I posted I realized I just didn't have the energy to do all the things I wanted to do for the holidays, so it was time to cut my losses and stick to the priorities: 1) teaching the kids their lessons until we (mercifully) hit winter break; 2) making balanced meals; 3) making sure there were clean dishes to eat the meals on; and 4) making sure there were clean clothes to have the meals spilled on. Only slightly lower on the priority list was making Christmas pajamas for each of the kids. Other than that, if it didn't happen, oh well.

The great thing about lowered expectations is I'm seldom disappointed, no matter the outcome. We had a modest but lovely Christmas, scaled back from previous years in terms of quantity, but overflowing with all that mattered.

My favorite thing about this Christmas was that as soon as we finished school on December 14th, the kids disappeared for the following week, holed up in our basement atelier making gifts for everyone in our family (including the cats) out of pipecleaners, beads, string and scotch tape. This resulted in Jimmy's first working invention: a cat toy made out of a single pipecleaner twisted into a ring. Something about the shape and fuzziness is irresistible to both of our cats, who've been chasing them all over the house for the last three weeks.

Simple really is better.

The week after Christmas, as I was putting away patterns and flannel scraps leftover from the Christmas jammies, and casting furtive, longing glances at the corner where the new dressform Santa brought me sat in its box, I had an "aha" moment.

One of the things I love about this drafty, ramshackle old house we rent is it is big enough for me to have a room of my own, à la Virginia Woolfe. It's a combination sewing room/office in a finished-off portion of what was once the root cellar, and lately the preferred hidey-hole for Santa to stash the kids' presents. As I was doing post-pajama clean-up, though, I realized that even with all the gifts cleared out it was still an unqualified disaster. I really, really wanted to set up my new dressform and get sewing so I could finish winter break doing a fun project just for me, but before I could even put it together, I knew I had to make a place to put it.

Then it hit me: I am my  sewing room. It is me. We are both a hot mess.

Upstairs my house is moderately presentable. The living room, bathroom and dining room can be made company-ready in 20 minutes to a half-hour, tops. The kitchen, well, maybe an hour. The point is, I keep things functional and presentable up there so life can go on, even when I'm teaching phonics, refereeing squabbles, and dealing with teething babies.

And that's pretty much how I work emotionally, physically, spiritually and intellectually--I do enough on the surface to be serviceable. I have down days and forget to pray or meditate, I get stressed out, I eat too much, I don't get enough exercise--but I'm basically a good person who helps other people, cares for my family, gives back the wrong change the cashier made and tries not to yell at my kids. Too much. In public.

Below the surface, though--down in the basement, if you will--it's chaos. Things are out of place, neglected, haphazard. Boxes and bags and baskets--stacked every which way, filled with mementos, fabric, books, papers needing to be filed. A huge backlog of keep-or-toss. Because of that, I feel like I'm putting off doing the things I want to do because I haven't yet done the things I need to do, and I don't want to live my life in a holding pattern.

After I had this realization, a phrase started echoing in my head: "Put your house in order, put your house in order." We were in Yakima all day running errands on New Year's Eve, and I couldn't get it out of my head. I knew there was a scriptural reference, and finally looked it up (thank you, smart phone). As I read the passage, rather than feeling behind the 8-ball, I was filled with an immediate sense of calm that I could go about this a little bit at a time, systematically, when I had small chunks of time between my other commitments.

As I've said before, I don't believe in resolutions--making the start of a new year an arbitrary time to implement changes--but now is the time for me to put my house in order so I can start living in ways I've been putting off because I had other things I "ought to do"' first.

For the first time in months, I can see the top of my desk. It feels good.