Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in review

 We played a lot. Steve and I picked up toys endlessly.
Holden got handsomer.
 And then it snowed the most beautiful snow.
We got coffee and donuts, a lot. And then mom read about the dangers of sugar so we stopped for awhile. But then we were back.
 We read books. Oh, so many books. And Brandon finally outgrew his ba-ba.
 Holden drooled through many shirts.
 And went from crawling to walking.
 Holden turned one.
 Brandon turned three.
 They dressed up for Easter, before Brandon knew to protest.
 We went to Hawaii with all of the Peleskys.
 It was the most glorious week of my life.
 Hula girls were ogled.
 Moments of friendship compounded into these boys becoming friends.
 I went to my sister's 30th birthday party as a surprise. I traveled sans kids and it was glorious.
 And then returning to my kids was even more glorious.
 
Their hair grew faster than I could trim it.
 In July, the boys met their mom's first child; their half-sister. And I started working part-time at the coffee shop.
 The boys ran everywhere, yelling, "race ya!" and they almost learned to escape.
We road tripped to Boone, Iowa to see Thomas the train. Brandon got his first bee sting which he took like a champ.
 Days passed and my baby morphed into a little boy.
 We got season passes to Vala's Pumpkin Patch and went a lot. I mean, a lot.
Brandon learned if he protests, mom will cave. So he picked out the Halloween costumes this year.
 Despite mama's incessant picture taking, Brandon still doesn't like pictures.
For Thanksgiving, we traveled to Washington where I cried many tears saying goodbye to my childhood home.
 All the while, Holden kept getting handsomer.
Snow came and blanketed us with something fresh, new and exciting. And I realized that every day is like that, really, when you have two wriggly, growing bodies and minds sharing a space. Three, really, if you count me.
Because many of my Instagram photos never make it onto this blog, here are a few of my favorite posts from 2015.

Happy 2016, everyone. I'll be practicing yoga and reading and raising these boys and cooking new meals and running. And writing; I will be blogging and novel writing and submitting completed writings for publication. I will do what is important because I've already done too much of what isn't.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My favorite books I read this year

When 2015 started, I had grand aspirations of reading 50 books. I thought the kids would allow me more time than they did, and I didn't anticipate starting a job. Even so, I read 34, and this year I even upped my game a bit by writing book reviews on each one in a little booklet. So yeah, I would say that's as good as reading 50 books.
 
(Clearly not all the books I read are pictured. Many were library books or not worth looking for in this mess of books I have here).

These books were my favorite from the past year:

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns 
by Khaled Hosseini
Novel 
Khaled also wrote, "The Kite Runner" and so I expected the sophomore slump with this book. But it wasn't a slump at all. It was also fantastic. This book is the intersecting stories of two Afghan women that spans the course of 30 years or so. It shows female inequality, war, and injustice. And in the end, it details endless sacrifices people make for others despite all of that. 

2. The Poisonwood Bible 
by Barbara Kingsolver
Novel
Ironically, I read this after "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and this book also spans 3 decades and is set in a foreign country. In this book, a white family from Bethlehem, Georgia enters Africa as missionaries for a one-year term. But this one year changes all of their lives forever. "Splendid Suns" champions love and family, while in this book independence is a theme as each family member finds their way through life independent of one another. This book is a part of Oprah's book club, for those of you who care about that kind of thing.

3. One More Thing 
by B.J. Novak
Short stories
I'm in love with B.J. Novak. I mean, how can you not be? And then he goes and writes this fantastic book and makes me fall even harder. I'm used to celebrities writing sub-par books that get published because they are celebrities. But B.J. Novak is a writer first, celebrity second. Short stories aren't that popular, perhaps because it is no small feat to engage a reader and get them feeling something in just a few pages, but B.J. does it marvelously (call me).

4. A Village Life 
by Louise Gluck
Poetry  
My book review booklet has ratings for each book, but it is so hard to rate poetry alongside fiction and memoirs. But if any poet deserves all five stars, it's Louise. The way she crafts poems is a true art form. I am transported to where she is, I identify with her feeling. I understand the character all in a short page or two. I appreciate not only what she wrote, but also, especially, what she didn't but what I took from what she wrote.

5. Wild 
by Cheryl Strayed 
Memoir
You are probably familiar this book since there is now a movie about it. I started the movie, but couldn't get into it. Luckily, I still gave the book a shot. Cheryl hikes 1100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and along the way decides to become a better person. She is the heroine of her own story and exactly the type of heroine I prefer - not perfect or one-dimensional or made to be likable, but rather human - authentic and flawed. And perhaps this explains my penchant for memoirs. 

6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 
by Maya Angelou
Memoir 
If you haven't read Maya yet, you should. It is not the story itself that makes this book so great, but rather the writing (ie: "I went up the stairs, one at a, one at a, one at a time."). This book describes Maya's early life during the depression in Stamps, Arkansas where she is raised by her grandmother. Then as a teenager, Maya drives her drunk father fifty miles out of Mexico and lives in a car in a scrap yard after her dad's girlfriend attacks her. OK, maybe you don't just read this for the writing. You also read it for the story. 

7. An American Childhood
by Annie Dillard
Memoir
Annie is eloquent, brilliant, and a nearly flawless writer. She remembers her childhood in amazing detail with great clarity. Annie is a writer, but I bet she could have been anything: a brain surgeon, a scientist, an astronaut. She has an amazing mind and a ceaseless curiosity.

8. A Drinking Life 
by Pete Hamill
Memoir
Pete was born into a poor family and grew up in Brooklyn during World War II. He was a part of history and vividly remembers the affects of the war, drinking and drugs, segregation/civil rights, JFK's Assassination, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, etc, etc. And he writes about the way those events shaped the people living through them by writing about how they affected him. He is relatable and honest and, although an asshole at times, I can't help but admire his passion to create for beautiful art and words for others to enjoy.

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower 
by Stephen Chbosky
Novel
I regret seeing the movie before reading this book because I would have loved to visualize those characters myself. This book is so much like the book I want to write - it is insightful, funny, deep, and honest. It is a coming-of-age tale wherein Charlie finds himself through his relationships with other people. There are some weird parts, but it works here. Everything works - this book is unapologetically its own.


10. A Separate Peace 
by John Knowles
Novel
This is not my first time reading this book, but it is the first time I have read it and understood the affect WWII had on these boys seemingly removed from it. Phineas is a great character sketch - charismatic, fun, impulsive and decisive. The title is interwoven as a theme in the story brilliantly and there are multiple "aha moments." Although the World War ends, the battle between what Gene (the narrator) knows to be right and his actions (no spoilers here) which were clearly wrong rages on.

And that, everyone, concludes my books for 2015. On to 2016. I better get started, because my "Next to read" shelf is now stacked to the top and two stacks deep.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

word strings

I am a lover of words. Not a vocabulary geek, but a lover of words strung together to mean something beautiful or thought-provoking or wise. Here are some of the word strings I have loved lately:
 "An American Childhood" by Annie Dillard. One of my favorite memoirs ever.
 I have been making a conscious effort to listen without interrupting, to hear without being heard. You wouldn't think it would take a conscious effort, but try it. It does. At least, for me. If this isn't a sign I'm selfish, I don't know what is. I can't think of anything more disrespectful than interrupting someone's words to spew your own. When you do that, you're saying, "what I have to say is more important than what you have to say."
 Adele's "25" CD booklet. Oh Adele. You are so perfect.
 
 Nora Ephron explaining the difference between "being a parent" of her day and the active verb "parenting" of today has become. We try to cajole and prod our kids into certain people, and yes, we should enforce politeness and respectfulness. But I can not make my loud child into a quiet one, or my emotional one into a stoic one. After all, they are them, and I don't want to screw that up. 
 
Ryan Gosling (swoon).

And then, on Christmas morning in my stocking, Stephen (my very own Ryan Gosling) left me the sweetest note about how he fell in love with me. Tears streamed down my face as I read my favorite words of all:

"Not everyone has somebody fall in love with them at first sight. Actually, very few probably do. You did, as it was instant for me. And I just wanted you to know that. Maybe you already did, but with my communication skills, it's possible you didn't.

I lived all over the world and met a lot of people, and in the end, there was just you."

(swoon).

Monday, December 28, 2015

perm experiment

About two months ago, I got a perm. I know, I know. It's a perm. But even still, I did. I was an experiment, of sorts. I sat as a hair model for a fellow barista who is in hair school. I reluctantly agreed, assuming I would be the only person without gray or white hair there. If nothing else, I thought, I can blog about it. 

Perms have always intrigued me, perhaps because I am a child of the 80s, when perms were all the rage. When I was a kid, there were these boys my age who got perms periodically and their hair was so blonde and curly and perfect. And my little niece also has blonde and perfectly curly hair. I guess I thought mine would look like that. I didn't think, clearly.

The day I got the perm, my hairstylist, (er, hair student) asked lots of questions, but there weren't many people whom she could ask. Everyone else it seemed was a student like her. Where were the adults? I wanted to know. We were in chairs, leaving our hair in the hands of amateurs like complete morons. Before she started, an instructor stopped by and said because my hair is blond(ish), she should coat it in some goo before we start. So she did. And that was her instructions.

It came out not in those perfect curls I had envisioned. It came out wiry and crazy and full. Not even curly, really, just frizzy, mostly. I asked my hair student what I should do to style and manage it. She shrugged. Shrugged! So I left the hair school, my hair still wet, looking more like Nick Nolte (remember that mugshot?) than like AnnaLynne McCord.

And then I went about my life, straightening my hair like usual. But my hair wasn't the same. Even straight - it was wiry and frizzy and damaged. Oh, so damaged. So last Wednesday, I went to see my hair guy for my usual cut and highlight. The second he saw me he surveyed my hair silently. So I quickly apologized. "I got a perm. At a hair school," I said the words with disgust. He nodded. He knew. He knew I had done something so stupid.

"Cut it off," I said. "As much as you want."
"Oh I will," he said. "But not all of it. I don't want your husband to come looking for me."
So he cut it off.
When I left, I took one look at the floor - at that damaged, dull, frizzy hair I had left behind and I smiled that smile you get when you shed bad decisions.

I really didn't think my hair was that much shorter than my usual cut (because it's not), but when I got home, Steve thought I had done something drastic. "It looks good," he said. "You look sophisticated." I was so happy he didn't say "mature" that I could have hugged him. So I did.

Everyone knows that quote by Coco Chanel: "A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life." She's right. And there should be another one too: "A woman who perms her hair is about to damage her life." Or a variation of that You've Got Mail quote: "...a perm that will turn out to be a mistake - as almost all perms are." Because trust me, ladies. It's a mistake. Don't do it.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

First snow

There's a certain magic that comes with the very first snow. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow, well, something wonderful is bound to happen.
~Frosty the Snowman movie
 Last weekend Steve and I went on a rare date, and for some reason, he thought we should buy the boys snow coats.
Today, we were so glad he did.
Although I handle much of the day-to-day with these boys, I couldn't do it without him. What he handles is invaluable to all of us. And without him, things would be forgotten completely, like snow coats.
 Brandon is half-adult, half-boy. Always juxtaposed between getting old and staying young.
And Holden, ah, Holden. He is himself in a way that is completely indescribable. But this is a blog so I will try. He is unruly and opinionated and rowdy and sometimes tender. He is rambunctious and loud and rough and tough but sometimes sweet and cuddly. He is a daredevil, a risk taker, an adventurer, a clown. He is our crazy nutball.
 Oh what fun it is to live with these completely opposite boys.

Friday, December 18, 2015

fullness

What is enough? In this pursuit of happiness, money, notoriety that we call our lives, is there ever a happy ending? Or will there ever be a destination where we are full? Full of what we sought - happy where we are, content. 

While watching "Wild," I scribbled down a quote: "this has the power to fill you up if you let it." And I thought of how true that is with anything: a simple, yet comfortable home, parenting, enough money (if we ever admitted what actually was enough), hobbies, exercise, food, friendships, our partnerships.

They all have the power to fill us up, if we can be there all the way - be present in them, give them the attention they deserve to get out of them what we expect. If we didn't expect to get without giving, we could be full. "You get out what you put in." It's time to put something in.

Giving opens the way for receiving. 
~Florence Scovel Shinn

Thursday, December 17, 2015

chaos

 Watching five boys ages 1 to 5 is insanity. Complete, utter chaos. The noise. Oh, the noise.
On Tuesday, after playing with their friends, I took the kids down to the old market to see the lights wrapped around the trees. We started with pizza, but when we came outside afterward, it was pouring down rain. So we ran (literally ran) to the cupcake shop, then drove to a coffee shop drive-thru, and by then the rain had stopped so we made our way to Aksarben village to see their "tree" display.
And then, we came home. Ah, home sweet home. Where the chaos suddenly wasn't chaotic anymore - being just two of them.

This married couple goes to see a rabbi. 
"What can I do for you?" the rabbi says. 
"We're having a terrible problem, Rabbi," the couple says.
"We have five children and we all live in a one-room house and we're driving each other crazy." 
The rabbi says, "move in a sheep." 
So they move a sheep into the house. A week later they go see the rabbi and tell him that things are worse than ever, plus there's a sheep.
"Move in a cow," the rabbi says. 
The next week they go to complain once again, because things are so much worse now that there's a cow. 
"Move in a horse," the rabbi says. 
The next week the couple goes to see the rabbi to tell him that things are the worst they've ever been. 
"You're ready for the solution," the rabbi says. 
"Move the animals out."
~As told by Nora Ephron in "I Feel Bad about my Neck."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

shatterproof

Christmas with kids is a whole new type of Christmas. If it weren't for my obsessive list making habit, I couldn't do it. I have a list for what to buy, a list for what to do, a list for Christmas cards, a list for Steve, and an ever-mounting list of things to wait and tackle after Christmas. I never realized the work that went into being Santa Claus as well as a parent, the work of keeping things even and fair, even if one kid is much easier to buy for than the other.

This is my first day all week not to spend a half hour in line at the post office with two young shrieking children. I have given up on rehanging each of the ornaments that the boys pull down, and have instead shoved the casualties into a drawer. I am attempting to handle it all with poise and calm, but it is tough when Holden is pulling down little Christmas trees and shattering shatterproof ornaments.

Despite the headache for adults, this all a part of the magic of Christmas for children. We do these things because they will always remember these Christmas seasons fondly, and one day, might even attempt to duplicate some of our family traditions, the way I did mine. So regardless of the fact that I am tired and should be doing some calming yoga, I will spend the afternoon making my mom's Christmas dessert recipe that I loved, and then I will clean up afterward.

'Tis the season, after all. And like all seasons, this too shall pass. Until, of course, it comes around again.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

park moms

I have never gotten on too well with other moms. I mean, I don't hate them or anything, but I definitely keep my distance. At the park, I'm that loner mom on a bench reading a book, or micromanaging my kids playing on the big toy. I overhear their conversations and think, my god, we have nothing in common. Which isn't true, of course. I probably have more in common with them than I do with any of my friends. I definitely have more in common with them than I do the other baristas at the coffee shop. But somehow, they feel like a different breed to me.

I am a mom, yes, but I have never embraced my momness to the extent of it becoming my defining characteristic. I can't imagine standing next to another mom in workout clothes talking about potty training. If she was in workout clothes, I'd want to talk about running or yoga. If she bought a new car, I'd want to talk about that. Sure, I'm fine to hear about kids' accomplishments and hilarious things they say, but the buck stops there. I don't want to hear about the nitty-gritty details in the trenches of parenthood - the yelling, the dirty diapers, the sleepless nights. I have my own experiences like that. I'd like something a little more exciting, a little less mommish.

But despite my cool and aloof distance, a mom at the park approached me today. She just sidled right up to me, completely oblivious to my keep your distance aura. "Are they both yours?" she asked, which I found a bizarre question, considering there are only two of them. My mom used to get that question a lot, but that was with four of us, which made sense because no one in their right mind has more than two children (or one, perhaps). "Yes," I answered, thinking my briefness would send her back to the bench she came from. It didn't.

"How is that," she continued, "having two?"
"It's awful," I replied. "Should have stopped at one,"
Although negativity usually turns people off immediately, this lady was undetoured.
"That's good to hear from someone who has two," she replied, not skipping a beat. And then she went on to tell me she has been wondering if another child is a good idea. Her boyfriend wants one, but he's adopted and they have no idea what his genetic background is. And he is much older than her. Does he really want to be the old dad?

She amused me, so I participated enough to hear more. Words poured out of her as if no one has listened to her in a year. She is a stay-at-home mom, which gives her cabin fever, especially since she doesn't have a car. This park is the only place they go, since it's within walking distance (they live in those apartments a half mile away). The boy's dad is out of the picture, but her new boyfriend takes over father duties.

She was youngish (24), but seemed much younger (16). She asked me if I also was a stay-at-home mom and I nodded. "How do you find time to do your hair?" she asked, mistaking my bobby pin for hair styling. "I haven't showered in three days," I admitted. At that, she relaxed and smiled and suddenly we related. Because before that moment, she thought of me the way I thought of all the other moms I've seen at parks. We bitched for a moment about other moms at parks, how bitchy and stuck-up they all were with their barky voices and designer sunglasses.

Then I added, "don't let them intimidate you; none of us have this parenting thing figured out. We're all just doing the best we can in our own way," speaking more to myself than to her. And then, as if on cue, Holden threw sand in her son's eyes. I hustled the children off shamefully, apologizing to this other mother deep in the trenches. Although I have some souvenirs of stability that she doesn't (a car and a house and a husband), it was clear that I don't have anything any more figured out than she does.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

home sweet childhood

It is always nice to go back home, but this trip had a greater meaning for me.


It was my goodbye to my home, and I spent a few tearful moments in our backyard, in my room, and in the room that Amber and I once shared. I stood where our gardens once were, which was the most emotionally-charged place, perhaps because it signified what we had grown there.

Brandon jumped on that rusted-over trampoline that housed so many games and fights and victories and even sleepovers.
 The grandkids put on a talent show using that same plastic microphone Amber and I used to sing with on that same hearth.
There was food, games, family.

I was home.

When you finally go back to your old home, you find it wasn't the old home you missed but your childhood. 
~Saw Ewing

That's it, really, in a nutshell.

I miss the camaraderie of my family, the feeling of belonging somewhere. I ache for the Pacific Northwest, not for the place but for the belonging and inclusion.

But maybe that's another blessing of children: once we no longer are the ones being protected and sheltered, we protect and shelter our own. We leave our childhood homes to make new ones for our children.

And we try our damnedest to do as good of a job as our own parents did.