Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Squirrel

Christmas, man. I love it, and it holds so much emotion and power. All that nostalgia and hope and excitement and goodwill and magic wrapped up in cheer and doing for others and that giant crescendo to the Big Morning, and then...kind of a crash. I always kind of crumple in the afternoon and evening of Christmas Day. I can't remember a time when I have not. I have that ache of weird sadness - not about presents or anything, but I guess because the sparkles that have filled the air since Thanksgiving all finally settle to the floor, and it's time to vacuum them up and move on to the next thing. We live half a country away from all our family, and it's important to us and our kids to have Christmas in our home, so we usually throw the doors open in the afternoon and invite anyone who wants to drop by for pie and board games and relaxing in our pajamas. That's a lovely, warm extension of the day, and I look forward to it every year. Alas, this year, we couldn't shake this ridiculous, gross cold virus that's been making its way through our family, so after the cinnamon rolls were picked at and the gifts were opened and marveled over, and we'd half-heartedly eaten the tacos I made for lunch, the two sick people in the family went back to bed, and we had the quietest, most solitary Christmas I can remember.

I was sad. I was feeling really down. I was starting to feel very sorry for myself. Ridiculous. Silly. Self indulgent.

I live in a safe, beautiful home that I love with my husband and children who are so precious to me, I can hardly stand it. My family in Kansas is willing to jump on video chat two days in a row to share some cheer with their far-flung daughter/sister. I have neighbors and friends who are like family. I have work that is deeply meaningful to me. I am woven into a community that I love. I get to make music of my own sometimes. I am so incredibly fortunate, and I have no business feeling sorry for myself.

So I'll let that Christmas melancholy flow through, and then I'll let it go, appreciating it for what it is - a little bit of dark to go along with the light. Plans don't always work out the way I want, and that's ok. If my family wakes up tomorrow feeling better, I'll count my blessings and thank my lucky stars. I know I'm not the only one to get a little squirrely on Christmas. It's pretty common, in fact. This squirrel is taking a big, deep breath, vacuuming up that glitter, and moving on.

Merry Christmas to you. I hope it's been really lovely.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

All the Shingle Ladies

I'm a doer. I'm a get things done kind of person. I carry a paper planner, I keep a calendar on the front of my cabinet, right next to my computer with the master schedule on it, and I LOVE to make to-do lists and check things off. The holidays are peak "doing stuff" time, and so it has been the worst time of all to get sick, but hey man, I've been singing Shingle Bells for the last two weeks.

Yeah. Shingles.

One of my very best friends in all the world contracted shingles years ago, when we both had newborn babies. She lives in Kansas, and she told me all about it, and it was HORRIFIC. I listened, filed it away, and didn't educate myself more, because...I had a newborn baby. I should have though, because apparently, shingles is pretty common. Did you know that? I did not. I had chickenpox two times as a child - one very mild case when I was little, and then a rip-roaring case in elementary school that I still have a couple of scars from. When you have had that fun little virus, it lies dormant in your body, and you can catch it again FROM YOUR OWN SELF in the form of shingles.

It's painful. It's exhausting. The brain fog is real.

I have not been getting things done.

On the other hand, it could be worse. 1. It's NOT CONTAGIOUS (unless you haven't had chickenpox/are unvaccinated, and you pantsed me when I had the shingles rash on my leg and then TOUCHED the rash. Then, you might catch chickenpox. You wouldn't catch shingles though, because you can only catch shingles from yourself, and that is just weird. Weirder still though would be if you pantsed me. So don't do that. That's just embarrassing for the both of us.) 2. It's mostly gone. I got on antiviral medication within the first 48 hours, and that has drastically cut the severity and duration of this whole mess. I will tell you what though, the day napping around here has been a serious pursuit for the last two weeks. Every day. Big naps. 3. James and the kids have been completely, ridiculously cool and amazing. They have picked up my slack and checked things off my to-do lists for me and kept life moving while I couldn't. 4. Lastly, as a good friend and I like to say to one another when complaining about things, "It could be worse - it could be kidney stones." It's not kidney stones, and that's a mercy. I hear those are the worst.

So anyway, I'm a little late on the holiday thing. It will still happen, and it will be magical and sweet, and I'm really, really looking forward to it, but if I was meant to receive the message that I need to slow down EVEN MORE, then fine. Consider me slowed. Just don't make me be a Shingle Lady anymore. And please don't send me any kidney stones either. I'm all good here.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


I have a weird crash of feelings every Fall. On the one hand, I love the whole season - the colors, the weather, pulling out sweaters and corduroys - it's beautiful magic.  On the other hand, it's kind of like dusk - that time of day when something is ending and dying, and I almost always trip and fall a little bit, get sad, start to feel down. I don't talk publicly about depression much. This is my happy little mommy blog, and does anyone want to read about that? Does anyone want to know? Here's the real: it's something I've dealt with for so long that it is just part of me. It's like my little pet dragon - sometimes, it's curled around my ankle. I know it's there, but it's pretty harmless. Other times, it rises up and grips my face in its jaws. I work hard in therapy to understand it, to see my patterns and to be healthy. I'm almost 40 years old, extremely functional, and I'm in the best place I've ever been, but I have a realistic view, I think. Like many people with clinical depression, there are some things that just kick me off. Understanding it is important. In past years, when Fall has come around, I've felt the flood rising, helplessly looked around, and just let go, slid down the well of depression and then sat down there until I could figure out how to climb back out or until someone could help me. Sometimes it's been bad. I've almost lost it all. Other times, it's just been a little slip slide, and then a quick recovery. I get a pretty consistent knock this time of year though. This year, I'm prepared, and I'm actively working against it.

I'm sleeping more. I'm eating better. I've cut a lot of the "busy" out, and I feel good about the things I'm committed to. And I've made plans to do things I really want to do, things I love and enjoy with people who are important to me. James and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. We had an early, extra Friendsgiving celebration with much loved, long term friends, and I'm going to as many live rock shows as an almost-40-year-old-with-two-children can deal with, because live music is a special thing to me.

Depression is a real thing. It's individual, and it's serious, and it can kill. Everyone deals with it in their own way, and our best ways of dealing change over time. For me, for now, for this season, I'm afloat. I'm doing ok. I don't tell you this because I want sympathy or attention. I tell you this because I think I put out my happiest face in public, and I want you to understand that no one is really their public face. I smile when the camera points at me. You probably do too. That doesn't tell your whole story, and it doesn't tell mine. So let's be real with each other. It's ok to do that, isn't it? We're just people, and we're doing the best we can.

I'm afloat this season. I'm doing alright, and I hope you are too.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


When I was four or five years old, my mom found me a wonderful piano teacher. Her name was Sharon Koehn, and I studied with her until we moved away from our small Kansas town up north, to the larger Kansas town where I finished growing up, and where my family all still lives. I loved music, and I loved playing the piano, and my parents believed in me, so they found me a new teacher in our new town. She lived right across the street, and her name was Mrs. Ruth Ann Polk. Oh, how I adored her. She taught me to play with feeling. She introduced me to Hanon studies and taught me wonderful practice techniques. When she felt I was ready, she told my parents I should start studying with someone at the University, so I started to work with a doctoral exchange student, named Robert Andres. He was a huge, tall man (or so he seemed to me), massively talented, who never smiled and rarely gave any compliments. He was nothing like the sweet women I'd studied with before. I practiced my hands off, and I learned and learned and learned, and when I earned praise from him, it meant the world. When he finished his doctorate and went back home, he recommended me to a University professor who agreed to take me on, and I began studying with Professor Alice Downs. She was kind and strict and patient as I navigated junior high and high school. I competed in piano competitions, improved as a musician, and then...
I was playing in a competition one Saturday. I was nervous, but not more than usual. I was seventeen years old, and I'd been doing this for a long time, but, in the middle of my piece, the music just flew out of my head and my hands. It was gone. I fumbled, recovered, fumbled again. Somehow, I sort of finished the piece, and then I left, humiliated, and I never competed again. In fact, it shook me so badly, that I stopped studying soon after that. Isn't that pathetic? I'd been thinking of switching over to voice lessons, because I loved to sing, and that's what I did. It was a good decision. I ended up majoring in voice in college, and I still sing. My parents backed my play, because they believed in me.
I have two regrets though. The first is the way that I quit. You see, I have a lifelong horror of disappointing people, and I admired Professor Downs so very much. I couldn't stand the idea of looking her in the eye and telling her I wasn't going to continue. I was seventeen, and I wasn't all that self aware, so I sort of ghosted her for a few weeks, and then my mom let Professor Downs know my decision. LAME. I owed her so much more than that. The second is this: for years, I didn't play. I mean, I have played the piano, but I haven't really, really played. When I was in college, my parents gifted me with the piano I practiced on as a kid. I've used it for years to practice my singing and to teach all my students. They learn to play their scales and their Hanon studies. I demonstrate correct technique for slurs and staccato, crescendo and diminuendo, and I distractedly accompany my voice students, but to play real, challenging piano music, just for the joy of playing? Nope.

Professor Downs passed away a few years ago. She was an artist and a musician who gifted her community with grace and knowledge for so many years. I should have found a way to apologize to her, but I never did. Lately though, I've been pulling out some of the last music we worked on together and stretching those old muscles.  As I play, practicing those difficult passages over and over, my hands remembering how to do this, I remember her voice and her steady patience as she sat next to me at her piano, coaching me along. If I listen closely, I can hear Robert and Ruth Ann and even Sharon as well. If I can be half the teacher they were, my students will be so fortunate.

Thank you, Sharon Koehn. Thank you Mrs. Polk. Thank you Robert. Thank you, Professor Downs. And thank you, Mom and Dad for believing in me. My hands are still strong, and the gift you gave me is still in them.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Follow The Gourd

You feel it too, right? The season is changing. Summer is saying goodbye, and Fall is putting on its shoes to come on out and run around. I always feel it first in my hands. They start to ache with arthritis, and I drop things like my plate or my purse or my coffee (TRAGIC) because I can't grip very well until everything equalizes. I LOVE Fall, but during the transition, I feel a little...uneasy in the pit of my stomach, and I don't think I'm the only one. It's hard to sit in the discomfort and just be. I feel a greater push to over-explain and justify my every move. I worry and over-think. It's an anxious feeling. In the end though, I remember this saying that my mother kept on her window for years: "Worry does not relieve tomorrow of its troubles. It robs today of its joy." (or something to that effect. That's how I always remember it) I know that the in-between time will pass and this bummer of a feeling will burn itself out. I'll stop wanting to stay in bed all day and avoid everyone I know.

Some of my weirdness is this change in my approach to life. I've got more time on my hands with this new policy of NOT saying "yes" to everything that comes my way. That's bizarre, man. My kids are rolling around in it though, and that's pretty great.

We got their school pictures today. I laughed a lot at the unbrushed teeth and the darling-who-would-not-look-at-the-camera, but I'm sending them out to the relatives anyhow, because, as a smart mom at our school said, "Well, that's how my kids looked that day, so...". They chose the backgrounds themselves, and I told them how great they look, because how sweet are these?

Fall in Oregon is glorious. The rumors are true, of course. It rains here, so don't move out this way if you're allergic to water or clouds or greenery. To me, it is so stunning though. I grew up in the Great Plains of the Midwest - those Amber Waves of Grain, man. I think that has an awesome grace and beauty all its own. When you look out and you can watch the wind do its work on the prairie all the way to the horizon - well, it's really something. Living here is so different though. I can see Mt. Hood from my yard on a clear day. I live an hour from the actual OCEAN, which is bananas. The seasons are long and they linger very sweetly. It's so, so green. Also, I happen to love the rain.

We are making deliberate promises to the kids lately. Specific plans with them, doing things that are important TO THEM and making sure those promises are honored. We always visit the same pumpkin patch every year. James will be unavailable on the weekend we usually go, so we made a point of going early, to be absolutely sure this family event happened.

I look at this precious face, and the fact that she still comes to get me in the middle of the night, because her hand is asleep isn't irritating. It's a tiny piece of a childhood that is moving quickly. It's a marker of her trust in me, the hand-waker-upper. Someday, she'll learn not to lie on it, and she won't come get me anymore. Then, it will be my turn to wake HER up, because turnabout is fair play. (haha)

And this one, who is smiling and laughing more readily and naturally again, without reservation. I've over thought and over analyzed and worried. I think he'll be alright.

My babies. Not babies.

And then there's this one. I can't stop laughing, and that's the best thing.

Follow the gourd, man. Summer is over. Feel that transition, because Fall is here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

And We're Back

It seems trite to keep writing about my own life when there's so much going on in the world - all these big things, crashing and booming and clanging. There's so much, and it's so important, and my tiny corner with its tiny concerns doesn't really matter. I know that. I just keep thinking that we're all of us trying though - trying to understand, trying to be heard or maybe to listen, trying to raise our children to be better than we are, trying to be love.

I'm usually pretty sunshiny on my blog, but life's not always like that, is it? Children grow and deal with the things children deal with. We age and tumble down the ol' highway, blundering along and figuring it all out through trial and error. I'm almost 40. I don't feel a day over 17. But hey, here we are.

I spent this summer diving deep, friends. I skidded into summer feeling like a burnt cinder. Totally, completely spent. Emptied out. Made it by the skin of my teeth. You get the idea. I have a great number of passions, and I take on a lot of projects. I run best on a higher gear, and I know that about myself, but I have a very bad habit of thinking I can take on more than is physically possible for one person, and once I've committed to do something (or fifteen somethings), I don't ever feel able to back out. I just keep saying "yes" and pushing and pushing until I'm all burned up. Sometimes it works out, and everything gets done. All the plates keep spinning and I don't worry that I've disappointed anyone. Brave face. Ta-dahhhh!

But sometimes I start dropping plates.

My J-bird had a horrible year at school last year. It was just awful. There was real, true, serious, no-joke bullying happening - verbal, emotional, and physical. It went on for months. He was deeply miserable and getting desperate. Do you know how fast even a confident child can be ground to powder at that age? Well, I'll tell you: pretty fast. And you want to know the absolute worst, most terrible thing? I didn't know. He didn't tell me, because he was scared to get his bully in trouble. His teacher said he was fine. And I was so busy spinning plates, that I DIDN'T SEE HOW BAD IT WAS.

Mom Guilt 101: Hello darkness, my old friend....

My kids don't face a ton of adversity. They are deeply loved. They're safe and protected. I'm not sorry about that. I understand that bad things WILL happen to them, but I was foolish enough to believe my child was safe at his school in his fourth grade classroom. He wasn't. That's a heartache, and it's a heavy one.

So we spent the summer together. We didn't travel. We didn't do anything intense. We made a list of the fun things they wanted to do, and we did them. We spent time with friends. We did a lot of art projects and baking and gardening. We worked on our relationships and on honesty. There was a lot of talking, because I won't lie to you, my son was angry at the beginning - not at me, but because of what happened. He needed some time to depressurize, and as he did, he told me all the details of his year. Then I was angry. We are all glad it's over.

I spent a lot of time in thought about all my plates, about my need to please and to say yes so people will like me. My children will only be children for such a short time. If I'm not more careful to guard our time together, if I continue to treat that so cavalierly, I'm going to miss some important stuff.

So I'm setting aside some pieces of my life - things I love, things I'm good at, things I'm passionate about. Back into the cupboard they go for a while. Oh, not everything - I still have my work and some time for music and art and friends, but there isn't time for every single thing. There just isn't. Not right now. I'm delegating. I'm working on saying no - not my strong suit - even when it makes my heart hurt. I'm working on letting go of the horrible angst I feel when someone is disappointed or even angry with me for not coming through for them, because I've got to focus on my family.

I am deeply flawed, and I make a lot of mistakes, but I always want to learn and to conduct myself with integrity. As my children head into a new school year, my son is smiling and laughing without reservation again, my daughter is more delightful and ferocious than ever, and I have pared down my priorities and opened my eyes. I believe it is possible to balance being a whole person with being a good mom. I'm aiming to try.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"And Most Of All, We'd Like To Thank Our Parents, Without Whom None Of Us Would Be Here..."

 Man, I love graduations. All that hope and nostalgia. Chapters ending and beginning. Pages turning. Doors and windows. I love the Pomp and Circumstance, the earnestness, the speeches, the long lists of names followed by uproarious cheering from various sections of the gym - and that part at the end where everyone exhales together and the kids all throw their caps in the air. Yeah. That part's the best.

Today, I attended the graduation ceremony for the Forest Grove High School class of 2017. I knew 6 graduating seniors today, so I did a lot of whooping and hollering and weeping and cheering and waving and clapping and fuzzy-long-distance-photo taking. It was so great.

Ruby gave a fantastic speech!

I couldn't track down everyone for photos after, but I caught a few.

Ellie and Ruby!!

Congratulations to Ruby, Ellie, Helen, Lily, Mira, Hiram, and ALL of the Vikings who graduated today! And thank you Nancy, Bob and family for inviting me to sit with you during the ceremony. What a day!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

It Is Too Much. Let Me Sum Up

 May is kicking my butt, guys. A lot of great stuff - some not so great stuff. Here's the run down:

At the end of April, we celebrated my darling James's 39th birthday! I've rhapsodized over this man so many times, but it bears repeating what a thrill it is to know that the fella I lucked onto at 22 really is the one and only one for me. He's a partner in every way. He's a phenomenal dad. I love him so.

He was out of town on his actual birthday, so the kids and I spent the week decorating the house and getting surprises and presents ready for him. The J-bird and Miss V pooled their money to get him something really special...which they put in the bottom of a gift bag under some socks and underwear (family joke). He loved it.

After that, my good friend, Robert and I put on a benefit concert we'd been working on. It was something we'd been mulling over for a while, and it really turned out well. We raised a good amount of money for two great local organizations, and we felt pretty great about the music we made.

(photo from Kristy Haines)

After THAT, my parents came to visit from Kansas!! We had so much fun. They hadn't been out this way in a few years, so it was great to show them all the changes we've made to the house and to spend time with them in the place we love so much. We took them to some of our favorite places, introduced (or re-introduced) them to a lot of our people, and just enjoyed their company so much.

My children's choir performed in church. Twice.

My pastor wrote a book, and I organized a book release party for her.

Unfortunately, my little J-bird has had a rough go of it lately. Two weeks ago, he slammed his finger in the car door. He did a pretty thorough job of destroying it, breaking the bone and destroying the nail and nail bed. The whole thing required surgery to repair.

Just when things were calming down, and he'd finished up the course of antibiotics prescribed in the ER (because it was an open fracture), his lips and tongue swelled up suddenly and alarmingly, and we ended up back in the ER. As it turns out, my sweet boy is allergic to amoxicillin. He's spent the last five days covered in hives and taking medicine around the clock to try to calm them down. NO FUN.

On the bright side, his finger is healing! He got a cool, new, smaller splint, and he's in great spirits. Things are looking up.

 We even got to go on his class field trip - a nice, muddy hike out at Stub Stewart State Park.

Miss V, on the other hand, is having a wonderful month! She's winding up her first year in school. She received a friendship bracelet from a buddy at school today. She loves science and math and art, and she currently thinks fart jokes are the funniest thing ever. *sigh* Oh, to be seven.

Somewhere in the midst of all of that, I also turned 39. I don't usually make a huge deal about my birthday. James, on the other hand, makes me feel special no matter what, and he always, unfailingly makes my birthday really nice. This year was no exception. His theme for the gifts he bought me was wonderful.  For a major bonus this year, my friend, Kristy made me an entire birthday day in Portland. We had bacon and whiskey and listened to records and played was so sweet and personal and kind - just like her. Then, to top it all off, I got to meet Amy on my way home for supper. It was a great day, and I really needed the break!!

So, you know, it's been a heckuva month. Birthdays, a concert, two trips to the ER, a surgery, a scary allergic reaction, a wonderful visit from family, time with friends, very little sleep...

And here we are. Still rolling along. Hoping June is a little less intense.