Anything Boys Can Do…

Here’s why I put together the bunk bed:

Not because I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t.

Not because I knew how to use my husband’s drill. I didn’t.

Not because I thought I would be fast or wise or good at this particular job.

I put together the bunk bed with my girls so they could feel capable and awesome, so they will grow up using their own drills with confidence, and take on projects with chutzpah and grace.

We built the crap out of that bunk bed today.

And it only took four hours.

lizzienkatienbunkbed finished bunkbed


New Kids on the Block

We spent the 4th of July by ourselves. The fireworks, the BBQ…just us.cropped palmtree firework

Yesterday, we took the kids to the pool and swam together as a family, alone.

Tonight we met a tabby cat on our walk. Lizzie tried to get it to follow us home.

We are going to have friends here.

We just don’t have any right now.

I’m not creepy or needy. My kids know how to take turns. We always meet awesome folks everywhere we live. This town will be no exception.

But I’d forgotten how the first weeks feel in a new place. Anonymous. Lonely. By now, shouldn’t someone have stopped by with a Bundt cake? Maybe some cookies? I guess they don’t eat carbs here in Southern California.

It’s good for us, I think. This friend-less time will help my kids grow closer. I waffle between forcing them to play together and trolling the neighborhood looking for children on bicycles. Yesterday, I made small talk with a woman taking out her trash because I heard kids’ voices coming from the backyard. Okay, so maybe I’m a little creepy.

I’m usually the welcomer. I’m the one who bakes scones or pops over to see if the new folks need a bottle of wine. I guess that could seem nosey. I prefer to think of it as friendly.

After I struck out with the lady at the trashcan, I walked past a house with a SOLD sign in the front yard. In a few weeks, we won’t be the newest kids anymore.

Neighbors don’t have to be BFFs, but it doesn’t cost much to walk a few paces down the sidewalk. To let the newbies know that trash day is Tuesday, or that the city pool down the hill has family swim from 1-3pm.

The kids and I are already planning to welcome the new neighbors with some homemade lemonade. Here’s hoping we start a tradition.



On Moving…Again

When Ken and I had been dating for a few months, I told my mom it “wasn’t going to last.” We’d had some fun, but he was joining the Navy, I would be counseling teenagers in Florida, and “I wasn’t going to sit and wait for him.”

I didn’t wait. That much is true. Instead, we got married, and we’ve traveled the globe ever since.

Which brings us to household move number eight — our second stint on the West Coast, the first since we’ve had all three kids. He’s out of the Navy now, but the new locations keep on coming. I hoped that having more kids would mean more hands to help with the unpacking this time. The jury is still out on that. But I have noticed that with more children, we’ve acquired more stuff.


More stuff and more chores. We have been in California for only a few days, but the dishwasher still needs to be loaded. There is still laundry waiting to be washed and waiting to be folded. The kids still need Band-Aids and baths and breakfast.  They still squabble over who gets the last raspberry. And I’m still just as tired when I wake up in the morning as I was the night before.

All of this is such a nuisance. Whenever we move, I kind of hope that a new place will result in a NEW ME. Maybe here, I won’t be so disastrous at cleaning. Maybe I won’t stress snack after the kids go to bed.

This has not been the case. If anything, the utter discombobulation of our trans-American move has me hitting the nighttime Nutella even harder than usual.

However, though you will not hear me say it very often, there is also something comforting about the perpetuation of our routine household mayhem. Even though I said goodbye to my family, my friends, and my favorite hamburger joint, and moved 2400 miles away, plenty of things have stayed exactly, 100% the same. In this ridiculous heap of a house, I can’t find the dental floss, cookbooks, or my favorite jogging shorts. But that, in itself, is a sign that I am still me, we are still us, and everything is going to be okay.


Shop ’til They Drop

Sometimes the kids fall asleep and you have to skip your errands in favor of their rest.




Other days you stuff them in a shopping cart like sausages, and just get it done.









Crosses We Bear

I’m not keen on public crosses.

I’m not anti-religion. Short of sects that marginalize or oppress, I think folks should worship how they choose with whatever icons or symbols float their boats. Crosses outside of churches don’t bother me. Or those hanging in private homes. They are like little advertisements: “This is what we believe here.” I try not to swear as often in their presence.

It’s the other crosses I dislike. The big ones. The crosses erected on front lawns or in groups of three along the highway. They read more like pronouncements: “This is what YOU should believe.” It’s not that I think they should be illegal. I just wish people wouldn’t put them up.

We drove past a massive one the other day. Lizzie was the first to see it.

cropped hillside cross

“Mom, look,” she said, pointing to the cross on a nearby hilltop. I was preparing my answer about belief and acceptance, and thinking about how much paring down it needed for a four-year-old when she continued:

“Mom, I think that’s where you go up to heaven.”

I glanced in my rearview mirror and she was smiling.

I don’t believe in foisting my religion onto other people. I don’t like divisive roadside symbols or billboards that threaten me with Hell. Sometimes I’m not even sure I believe in God. But I believe in my kids, in their simple and sweet goodness, and the way that, when I take the time to really listen, they help me interpret the world with hope.




Forks on the Road

Thank you to the busboy and the greeter at a Texas Cracker Barrel who loaned me five sets of actual silverware when the restaurant ran out of plastic to-go forks, so my kids did not have to eat macaroni and cheese with their hands.



The Sofa Test

If you really want to know whether you have found a life partner, don’t date. Don’t waste your money on dinners or movies or tickets to the latest show.

To ascertain whether he or she is THE ONE, move a house together. You don’t need to live together. It doesn’t have to be your stuff. Just pick up someone’s sofa and carry it down a flight of stairs. Turn it on its side to navigate an alcove. Hoist it into a rental truck idling at the curb.

I don’t care if you have only known a person for a couple days. If you can move furniture together, you can get married. If you can laugh when the kitchen table doesn’t fit through the front door, if you can apologize when you skin his knuckles on the entryway, if he can forgive when you scratch the hardwood floor, you can navigate a lifetime.

Ken and I recently loaded all of our worldly possessions, all of our cheap, crappy, broken, and stained garage-sale goods onto a rental truck. It sucked. It blew. Why do we have so many books? And filing cabinets? And lamps? Why do I insist on sleeping in a king-sized bed? Does he really need those shark figurines? And even though he broke my favorite serving platter, and I dropped a shelf on his toe, we laughed more than we argued. Mostly.

Every so often, it is good to be reminded that you married the right guy.  Especially at the start of a 3000-mile journey.



When Life Gives You Lemonade

When I came home from my last business trip, my daughter Katie’s lemonade stand was on the sidewalk in front of our house. The sun had set, the ice had melted, and I grumbled as I carried the sticky folding table to the garage.

I checked the till — about ten bucks in loose change and dollar bills. At 25 cents a cup, that’s pretty good for watered-down Country Time in soggy Dixie cups.

It’s been heating up in Ohio. We’ve had a couple 80-degree days already — good for the lemonade business. Katie’s got an entrepreneurial spirit and a ton of energy, and my wife is great at channeling it. Over the winter, Katie sold firewood and hot chocolate. Springtime was smoothies and painted rocks (the neighbors will buy anything).

I did my tour as a stay-at-home parent when Katie was born, and it kills me to miss so much of what is happening now.

But I’m the breadwinner, and like a lot of working parents these days, that means I’m on the road a lot. Last month it was San Francisco, Boston, New York, DC, and all the while I’m thinking of Ohio and our quiet side street with my kid on the corner selling iced lemonade under the hot sun.

“It’s my job, Daddy” Katie tells me. She’s developing a good work ethic, that’s for sure.
“Where’s all this money going?” I asked her once.

“You’ll see,” she said. I imagined coming home one day to a pony in the driveway.

“Just clean up when you’re done,” I reminded her, knowing she’d forget and knowing I’d end up rinsing the big red cooler, again.

All in all, I realize how lucky I am. I have a job I love, with health care, and a family I can talk to whenever I want — thank you Skype. But every time I fall asleep in some distant hotel room, I ask myself, “Is what I did today worth more than tucking my kids into bed?”

Children are adaptable. They are resilient. And mine have gotten pretty good at saying goodbye. A hug and a kiss and they send me on my way. No drama, no guilt trips. It is tempting to think they are taking it better than I am.

But a few days ago, Katie brought me a shoebox.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“I’ve been saving it,” she said. She lifted the lid, revealing a pile of change and wads of bills.

“This is great, sweetheart,” I said, proud of her for not spending it all at the candy store downtown. “What’s it for?”

She laid the box in my lap, put her arms around me and said, “It’s for you Daddy. So you won’t have to go away tomorrow.”

I thought about cancelling my meetings for the week. But I have to work, and so I have to leave home sometimes. I talked to Katie about responsibility, and what it means to provide for a family. I held her tight, probably a little too long.

After she went to bed, I realized what I should have said.

“Sweetheart, I promise you we will open a little stand together, and we’ll sell firewood in the winter and smoothies in the spring and lemonade all summer long.”

Someday soon, I’ll make good on that promise.


This Is All Possible

We pick up the moving truck in five days.

Between now and then, I still have 14,712 items to sort, donate, and/or pack. Katie wants to know whether she’ll be permitted to wear bikinis in California, and if she needs to be nine or ten to join the surf team, and how late she will be permitted to stay out ‘shopping with her friends.’ It is becoming clear to me that we should leave her behind. California is where she will become a teenager. I can only handle one catastrophe at a time. Lizzie refuses to pack anything but stuffed animals. There is something lovely in that. Lizzie is clinging to her childhood at the same time that Katie is drop-kicking hers into the sea. And Henry? Henry just wanders around the house overturning half-packed boxes, jumping in piles of clothes, and laughing. To him, this is all a game.

While each kiddo’s perspective is understandable, what I love is their aggregate. This is, indeed, a big move. Like the hermit crab in that Eric Carle story, our family is outgrowing its current shell. Henry’s crib is not making the trip, nor are many of the kids’ childhood toys. Katie feels these changes most intensely. And though she is wrong about the shopping and bikinis, she is right that we need to embrace the new circumstances. They are coming. In the face of this, Lizzie knows we can’t let go of every comfort. Too much progress too soon is scary. She reminds us that we should always have something soft to fall back on. And Henry? He is right to make fun of my piles. I take things too seriously. I stress about matching the Tupperware, kvetch about packing the kitchen. There is something marvelous (dare I say fun?) about starting over. I keep thinking of that Emily Dickinson poem, “I dwell in Possibility.” Recluse that she was, Dickinson was likely writing about the power of poetry rather than the open road. But that notion of possibility speaks to me as I gaze west. There is yet no junk drawer in our California house. In that new town, I am not yet known as slovenly or garrulous or a wit. I will probably be the same. Still forgetting people’s names thirty seconds after we meet. Still sneaking chocolate chips when I wash the dinner plates. But it is possible, as Katie, Lizzie, Henry and Emily have together shown me, that the combination of the old and the new might also be a lot of fun.

Here’s hoping.



Who Cooked Something Fancy Last Week?

best high res spicy whipped cream…and who hasn’t made anything since?