I am not responsible for every bad mood Every freckle that appears (Should have put on more sunscreen) Every failure and every success. I am responsible for me For who I am and the choices I make. We are separate Me and her Different people with different childhoods. Though sometimes it’s hard to see the lines between us when She came from me, through me. She never walks, only skips. While other children pop about like dandelions, she’s an orchid – miraculously beautiful yet meticulous to care for. I cry because of how hard it is to parent a highly sensitive child, especially when you’re a highly sensitive parent. If only I can remember again why I am here; to be the earth below the river of her life, guiding her to the ocean of herself. To be the earth below the river of my life, guiding me to the ocean of myself.
I was always praised for being fast and efficient – At work, at school, walking, even going pee Go go go go Get married, have kids, buy a house – Get it done. Then I stepped into the garden and all I kept hearing was slow down. This was very irritating. I’m better when I’m fast More worthy and certainly more valuable. But then, The wheelbarrow tipped over and I accidentally pulled out a row of beets I thought were weeds. Slow down she whispered Slow down Slow down Slow down.
The summer of ‘22 — A clearly punctuated gift of time. A chance to remember life more vividly; Come September, different from June. Hopefully more refreshed or experienced, at least saltier.
Endless magic at the Zoo at night. Diving boards at the local pool, Sandlot style. Bonnie Raitt and flies in the kitchen. Rising Appalachia in the redwoods. “Live your life time” at home. Dog days coalescing with covid fevers. A treasure hunt birthday to start and an ice cream truck one to end.
Despite lots of activity — the summer activity list still hangs in dismay. Feeling like the days were up eaten by — breakfast after breakfast snack regular snack lunch whining afternoon “we’re sooo hungry” snack “gross” dinner Bedtime pb&j and bravery water
I wonder if all summer dreams are meant to be fulfilled or rather, to float wistfully around as unreachable promises; seeding hope for next year or even the one after.
After my dad died, I remember my mom saying that she just wanted her boring life back. The one where they went to the same Italian restaurant every Friday and kissed every night when he got home from work. The one where she would fall asleep on the couch while they watched yet another bad movie they found on Netflix. The boring life that was brimming with comfort, laughter, sarcasm, kindness and love at every turn.
I think about this often.
Sometimes I am guilty of feeling bored with life. I long for more excitement and adventure. Mundane moments leave me itching for something more. My freedom is loud and my desire to live, like carpe-diem-squeeze-the-juice-out-of-every-minute kind of live, gets antsy.
But what if this “boring” life is the dream? What if this iteration of time is the one I look back and long for? The one where “you mak the wrld btr” written in freshly learned handwriting lives permanently on my chalk wall.
I guess two things can be true; I can always want more for my life and I can feel a mountain of gratitude for what’s right here; a lifetime of beauty in the sometimes boring.
As we drove our final travel stretch from Anchorage to Girdwood, a local mountain town, all five of us were ready to “be there yet”. Years of longing, an astrocartographer’s nudging, months of planning, two long flights and the snack hero (me) all brought us safely to this moment.
Birch pollen filled the air like summer snow and covered the corners of streets and side-walks in fluffy white. Our first greetings from Alaska.
We dropped ourselves off at the Airbnb and I wondered to myself, what have we done? Was this a terrible idea bringing three young kids to Alaska? My weary mind and wasted nervous system collapsed into bed.
Thank God for new days.
We walked along Winner Creek Trail, across logs and through ice cold streams. We panned for gold at Crow Creek Mine (scam) and dunked our feet and heads like ice cream cones into the glacier water (worth it). We ate at Jack Sprat twice. We took a boat tour of the spectacular Portage Glacier and later backed the truck up to a nearby river for the girls to splash around, while Ryan and I laid back in the bed, lost in reverie. Three days flew by.
Just before our drive from Girdwood down the Kenai Peninsula to the seaside town of Homer, we stopped for breakfast at a local cafe. We met a kind woman named Mary whose story was like many others. “I came here on vacation and that was 53 years ago!” she laughed.
Mary hand-drew us a map of our upcoming road trip and shared her favorite recommendations along the way. I kept the note safely in my bag, reminding me of all the times my dad would draw us maps back in the day when giving directions. We would roll our eyes, Thomas Guide in tote, and ask him to just tell us where to go!
The scenery on the so-called Sterling Highway is something to be felt rather than read about. A gentle mix of rugged terrain and delicate wildlife – Sound of Music meets The Hatchet. Greenery grows straight from the edge of the road to the top of the trees, no dirt seen in between. Purple lupine flowers line the highway, while bright blue rivers and waterfalls fall from every crevice in the mountains.
The epic sights followed us all the way to Homer, ending with a panoramic view of the cerulean Kachemak Bay. Homer is known for its peonies, halibut, artistry and sea otters – I don’t think that’s official, but at least that’s what I gathered.
We spent much of our time on Homer Spit (a 4.5 mile piece of land jutting out into Kachemak Bay), looking under the harbor docks for sea stars and anemones. The food scene in Homer was surprisingly delicious and noteworthy – we ate at the casual Swell Taco, had delicious fish at Fresh Catch and our favorite, Finn’s Pizza, a little sunroom serving maybe the best pie ever.
We went on a seasick wildlife tour with puffins, otters and seals. We hiked down Diamond Creek Trail – with our bear spray – and ended up on a beach full of tide pools. I held my first sea star in the palm of my hand and it felt like a hug from the ocean. Maisley and Coura took cucumbers from our snack-bag and made a “relaxation” center near a creek. (Not a single complaint from kids during this intense two-mile hike, but ask them to walk down the street and hell hath no fury!).
Outside of exploring, relaxing in the Adirondack chairs at the Airbnb was enough to keep us occupied. We saw eagles soaring overhead at all times and two nesting cranes flew in for a rambunctious visit every evening. The trees rustled gently in the wind and a particularly beautiful bird-song lulled us to sleep at night and brought us to life every morning. The natural world still knew their daily rhythms, even when a hazy midnight sun never quite let the darkness in.
Smokey skies stole our views for a day. Cranky kids, our sanity.
In honor of making the most of our time in Alaska, we laughed more easily than usual at the “bad” moments we knew would become funny memories – our misfortunate stop in a town called Soldotna and how Ryan sprayed cheap wine all over the kitchen one night trying to open the bottle in haste without an opener. Also on the list; Mara screaming all the way from Seattle to Anchorage and all of the almost spiritual moments we had.
And now, an anti-climatic wildlife update. Our eyes were peeled every second of every day for moose and bears. The girls were promised a muffin if we saw a moose. We imagined them on every corner.
We went to moose meadow. We drove down the Kenai peninsula where you can’t not see a moose (didn’t see a moose). No moose when the signs said “look out for moose” in Anchorage. Little did we know, the only moose we would see was the stuffed one at the airport on the way home. I wonder, maybe a moose saw us. Scared off by the pitch in Mara’s voice or the prance in Maisley’s fancy feet. We will never know!
Just as the birch pollen had greeted us, the fragrant scent of wild roses on our last walk in Anchorage was our souvenir for the way home.
Make me like you, Alaska. Draw out my wild. Strengthen my shoulders to be immovable like your mountains, unruffled by the impermanence of nature. Remind me of your freshest breaths of air and depths of wisdom. Fill me with the confidence of your teeming rivers. Please brush me with the abundant aliveness that radiates from your roots to your wings.
I am so thankful and in awe of the native people for tending to and protecting this land. I am so thankful that this much primitive nature exists in the world, too vast for the human touch.
As for the girls, the best part of Alaska was, of course, the ice cream.
R.I.P. to Bubba a.k.a Bubbs, Coura’s favorite baby doll, who is now on his own permanent vacation in Alaska.
Nothing, other than grief, has taken me further from and also brought me closer to myself and the depth of human love than motherhood. I think that’s what they mean when they say, “Yeah, but it’s worth it!”.
I am someone who relates to the world in a deep, larger-than-life way. My process is to feel and surround an experience from all sides; only then do I understand and move forward. I am learning to let that be, without the internal judgment that I feel too much or that I am too sensitive. I am learning to find beauty in the way I interact with the world around me, even when it’s inconvenient.
I wrote a letter to each of my girls at 10:45pm the night before we left for a spontaneous trip to Big Sur. I was an anxious, sad mess thinking of something bad happening to Ryan and I. Nothing makes me consider my mortality more than getting on an airplane with nothing but freedom and impending joy on the horizon.
I went there. I mean I really went there. How Coura and Mara would pretty much have no memories of me if I died. How all of this life we have lived together so far would only be an essence of who they are. No one to recall the exact intimate details, connection and love we shared. The tiny details like the way Mara’s hair curls after the bath, the shit grin on Coura’s face when she’s been up to no good or the brave, determined look when she’s trying something new. The way Maisley laughs and all of her gums show when Ryan uses his Forrest Gump voice. The way she cuddles in when we do special time at night and asks me to draw with her.
**Of course, I know they would have stories and photos and videos, they would have my sisters who know them like their own kids, their loving grandparents and my amazing friends.**
I would hate for them to read my words or my blog and only see the hard parts of early motherhood. The truth is, they are the good parts.
The first day of a trip is always disorienting to me. My rigidity and fear don’t match the loose seams of wanderlust-ing. Once my body catches up, I recalibrate and can see myself where I am again. When I open my eyes, there I am, in a bright new world with so much to see and experience.
I hope my girls visit Big Sur when they’re older and come to the Henry Memorial Library for a concert. I hope they remember when their mom and dad went there on a whim. I hope they feel us there, our memories, the magic. Our awe and wonder deep in the forest floor. I hope they call me and Ryan so we can reminisce on the way we cried at the opening ballad of Rising Appalachia, their serene voices traveling through the redwood trees.
I hope they know this trip was magical because of them. Because I have them to come home to. Both the luxury of a beautiful, full, family and the richness of a diverse inner life of freedom.
The adventurous part of me was in pure bliss, driving down the California coast, listening to live music, experiencing novelty at every turn. Meanwhile the more fearful part who craves comfort and safety played a little song and dance. When my parts get loud, when they conflict, or mix and match it makes me feel disoriented. Why can’t I just feel joy without fear tethered so close behind? Who do I believe? Which part is true?
I guess what’s true is that I am neither part. I am something deeper than all of it.
I am the one who witnesses it all, who disappears into the earth and comes up only to deliver branches of love, truth and wisdom.
“Did I ever tell you the story of how strawberries got their name?” my Dad would ask.
My sisters and I would laugh and roll our eyes. Dad would throw us a friendly nudge. All of us knew that he had in fact told us that story. Too many times to count (though I was secretly happy to hear it over and over again).
Today we picked blackberries and strawberries fresh from the vine at Stehly Organic Farms in Valley Center. I was sure to stop and tell the girls how strawberries got their name.
“Back in the day, farmers placed hay instead of plastic at the base of strawberry plants to protect the berries from frost and mold,” I shared confidently. “That’s why they’re called strawberries.”
They didn’t care much about my fun fact, mostly interested in who could find the juiciest ones.
Walking away with berry stained hands and the earth still under my nails, I thought of my dad (I always do).
I thought of his family who owns Loftus Farms in Indiana. I thought of us as kids planting a garden in the backyard that never seemed to grow. I thought about pulling weeds and doing chores on Sundays, my dad in his white construction shirt, old blue jeans and a baseball cap. I thought of the way he would eat a whole apple, seeds and all, maybe spare the stem. A peach would be cleaned to the pit.
Did you know that strawberries are also known as “the heart berry” in many indigenous cultures because of their shape? Or that the word strawberry comes from the Old English streawberige because the plant sends out runners that look like pieces of straw.
Planted in the hearts and minds of me and my daughters are little seeds of curiosity and the magic of folklore sparked by strawberries. In this place, Dad, you are alive and well.
We tell our love story like words on the back of a wine bottle How it all started How the rest was history. We smile and laugh at the same parts, we remember the serendipity and irony of it all. At some point the “story” ended and we actually began: Marriage, a baby, a second baby, a move, a death, another baby How do you capture such complexity into such a short attention span? The way we will feel distant for a few days and then always come back together Or the way grief has polished us like rocks from the tide, into something neither of us recognize For better, for worse. How do I possibly share the cavernous depth of gratitude and love I feel or how a part of me stayed behind when we got married and another part when I became a mother. My wild, my bigness, my longings, my power – subconsciously afraid she didn’t belong. (When all along, she was the part you fell in love with) Together is complicated Where you end and I begin A new love story is slowly blooming The one where we are living the life we want not the life we think we should want The one where I am fully me and you are fully you.
I lay in bed and circle the pothole of guilt wondering if I’ll step into it tonight. Will bathing in the pit absolve me of my sins for the day? Tomorrow I’ll read more books, meal-prep sooner, do an art project, pay more attention to the middle one, draw with the big one and promise not to make anyone feel bad. I’m so cautious with every word I say, aware of all the dollars I’ve dropped in their future therapy jars. Maybe they’ll say, I made them focus too much on their feelings. I’m beginning to think the next hot parenting method is the one where I just say nothing at all. My therapist asks if I’ve heard of the good enough mother? As my three little birds cry out for something they need, My inner child also begs, “what about me?!” I am juggling in a three-ring circus I am the heroine and the villain I am a human vending machine I am Mother… But who else am I?
My daughters run up the same path I did as a kid; the same one my dad did thousands of times when he was a kid. Free oranges hang over the fence from the neighbors yard, tart and sour, full of seeds, their scent creating a perfume across the yard. Other trees with over 60 years of wisdom dot the large plot of grass that leads to the front door; avocado, persimmon and orange trees. Still offering gifts to the little grabbing hands at their trunks. The corner window is intact, once shattered by a golf ball that was meant to be the magical sound of reindeer landing on the roof.
Our family and extended family all gather to celebrate my Papa’s 91st birthday. A classic front yard party at 521. The kids make themselves right at home with their favorite toys, while all the “grown ups” enjoy casual conversation and a delicious spread of food prepared by our Aunts.
Papa has so lovingly maintained this home, keeping intact and honoring her original beauty. I can trust this house, the way she smells and the way the stairs leading up from the entry almost propel you into a slight skip. I never tire of gazing at the old photos in the hallway, in awe and wonder of my dad’s “brady bunch” style family – three boys and three girls – with their silk shirts and long hair.
The old cuckoo clock immortalizes my Grandma Joan’s playful nature. In quiet moments throughout the day, I can still see her in the kitchen window, hear her whistle that dinner is ready and taste her guacamole with fresh avocados from the tree. The room where we said goodbye to her.
After lunch we all go out to the front yard for games, organized by Uncle Chris, the biggest kid of them all. Wagon rides around the yard, field goal kicking contests, three legged races, and the pinnacle being a game of flag football. As we all huddle together, my uncle flips over his left hand to trace the football play on his palm, the exact same way my dad used to.
Many things are the same, others are different. My memories are just a tiny snippet of the ones held here. But they are vivid and important, a corner of my heart where all is always well, everything makes sense and laughter and fun are mandatory.
As we start to pack up for the day, I get a sense that the home feels pleased. Content to again be the space holder for memories, entertainment and joyful chaos. Sturdy, in great condition, well-loved, strong character, an immeasurable legacy – her dedicated bones are a mirror of my Popster’s. Thank you 521, thank you Popster. See you next time!