Monday, April 30, 2007

Making Potato Salad

I didn’t always like having brown eyes. My sister Marianne had blue eyes and she was older, taller and knew more about the world than I did. If I wasn’t like her, maybe I was the wrong one. (It didn’t help that I was also left handed and she was right handed…why did I have to be the one with so many flaws?)

We had Grandma with the Brown Eyes though. She was our great grandma, the mother of our grandpa who died when we were too young to remember him. We loved Grandma with the Brown Eyes! Among her charms were her sparkling disposition, lively family stories and pink phone in her’50s era rambler. She also had brown eyes. She greeted me by asking, “How are my brown eyes?” Her good-byes included, “Take care of my brown eyes.” When we visited her I thought that perhaps I was the luckiest girl alive to be blessed with brown eyes.

Different families have different legacies. Our parents have the dual history of pioneers—mainly from Scandinavia or Great Britain—crossing the plains to the West. Because of the entertaining stories Grandma with the Brown Eyes told us, I know more about her branch of the family than any other. She had a framed portrait of my grandpa, her son, looking handsome in his Army uniform with hat at a jaunty angle. I remember her taking the time to take my finger and point out pictures and names in her large Book Of Remembrance. She had a table covered with a piece of glass with more pictures underneath that she carefully told me about one by one.

Henrietta, her grandmother, crossed the plains when she was five and some nights cried for even a crust of bread. Sarah, her mother, was a beauty, widowed at a young age. They were characters alive. I felt roots sinking into the earth beneath me.

When I think of my great grandma, I think of those hazy early childhood memories in her wonderful house, I think of the pioneer stories, I think of the huge snowballs and peonies she grew on bushes in her yard and I think of potato salad.

One summer, when I was a little older and had I’m sure graduated from calling her Grandma with the Brown Eyes to Great Grandma Jaynes, she was visiting us along with her daughter-in-law, my grandma. My mom was making potato salad and asked my great grandma to make the dressing. She said, “No one makes potato salad like you do.” I think because I was old enough to appreciate what a good cook my mom was yet young enough to still think my mom must know everything, I was awed by that request. Great Grandma’s potato salad must be amazing.

I was old enough to help too. Old enough to feel grown up gathered around my mother’s kitchen table with paring knife in hand, peeling eggs and potatoes and slicing them. I was happily ensconced in a maternal nest that spanned four generations.

When I was in high school my great grandma died and I don’t think I’ve ever quite gotten over it.

I still love making potato salad. I have never made it for my family…I don’t really like it all that much. I love being gathered around the red checked tablecloth in my parents’ kitchen with my mom and sisters though. We peel and chop and talk until our hands are starchy and our souls are restored. The kind of restoration that always happens when you can reconnect and remember.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Books To Read

Perhaps later I’ll come up with a good way to organize these books but until then it’s just a jumbled list. I have two big disclaimers: I won’t be necessarily reading everything before I put it on this list and I also have a bad memory when it comes to the less than desirable parts of books. So if you come across a book on this list that is offensive, please stop reading it and forgive me.

Happy reading!

By Fannie Flagg:
Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man
Welcome to the World, Baby Girl
Standing in the Rainbow

ANYTHING by Maeve Binchey or Jane Austen

The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall

Looking Like the Enemy by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald

The Road by Cormac Mccarthy

By Jeanne Ray
Eat Cake
Step Ball Change

By Lawana Blackwell
Maiden of Mayfair
Widow of Larkspur Inn
The Courtship of the Vicar’s Daughter
A Dowry for Miss Lydia Clark
A Table by the Window

By Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Peter and The Star Catchers
Peter and The Shadow Thieves
Escape from Carnivale

By Shannon Hale
The Princess Academy
The Goose Girl
Enna Burning
River Secrets

A Dance for Three by Louise Plummer

By Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Mara Daughter of the Nile
The Golden Goblet

By Cynthia Voigt
Solitary Blue
Dicey’s Song
The Runner

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

For our July 2007 book club we had readers' choice. Here are the suggestions made:

If (Questions for the Game of Life) by Evelyn McFarlane and James Saywell

This book was less of a recommendation and more of a fun diversion for us, courtesty of Teresa.

Teresa recommend:

Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
She Said Yes by Misty Bernall (the story of a girl killed at Columbine High School because she refused to deny she was Christian)
The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny (a fantasy series)

Doreen recommended:

Monk series, Inspector Pitt series and a series about WWI, all by Anne Perry
mystery series by Dianne Mott Davidson
Hannah Swenson series by Joanne Fluke
Navajo series by Tony Hillerman

Ann recommended:

books by Anne McCaffrey--The Ship Who Sang among others (science fiction)
Dragon Rider Series by Anne McCaffrey
Death In-- series by M.M. Kaye
The Far Pavilion by M.M. Kaye
The Tilsit Inheritance by Catherine Gaskin
Edge of Glass by Catherine Gaskin
Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin
books by Dick Francis
The Cat Who--series by Lillian Jackson Brown
Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
Exodus by Lion Uris
The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain
anything by Mary Stewart
Love, Greg and Lauren by Greg Manning (chronicles the recovery of a World Trade Center survivor)

Stephanie recommended:

Tiger Tiger by Lynn Reid Banks (young adult fiction set in ancient Rome)
Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman (set in the town in New Mexico Stephanie is from!)

Thelma recommended:

Tall Weeds by Sandra Dallas (by the author of Persian Pickle club)
Victorian Serenade series by Lawana Blackwell
Loser by Jerry Spinelli (young adult fiction)

Suzanne recommended:

Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt (young adult fiction)

Jolyn recommended:

These is My Words by Nancy Turner
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (essays on books)
Riddled With Life by Marlene Zuk (non fiction about the symbiotic relationship between humans and parasites...yes, Jolyn is intimidatingly academic here!)

Becky recommended:

If Life Were Easy It Wouldn't Be So Hard by Sheri Dew
He Did Deliver Me From Bondage by Colleen C. Harrison (book about overcoming addiction using the Savior for help...sounds great)
Drawing on the Powers of Heaven by Grant Von Harrison

Kim recommended:

Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer (a series that's keeping Kim up all night reading...set in Forks, WA)
Mole People by Jennifer Toth (about people living under the streets of NYC)

Heidi recommended:

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (an Oprah book)

If you have comments about a particular book on this list please leave them. If you want to add something to the list, please email me and I will add it for you.

That's all for now...I'll add more as I think of them.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Here We Go A WASLing

Since I home school my children, taking them to school usually means yelling down the stairs, “School time!” Today was different. It’s time for the WASL test. Sounds like a festive holiday drink but really it’s the Washington Assessment of Student Learning and puts a bit of fear in the hearts of all the Washington learning students’ mothers.

I had to take Braeden to the Everett Boys and Girls Club for the day. I had him there a little after 8:00 and I can pick him up after 3:00. I was shocked when I first read the schedule a few weeks ago. They really expected me to drop him off to perfect strangers all day for an entire week? I know most mothers of ten year olds in America do that every day. Call me a late bloomer. I mustered my courage and told Braeden in a cheery voice, resolved to be tough for him. Not let him see my anxiety. I didn’t want to stress him out too. When you’re the mother you have to be a pillar of strength. It’s part of the job description.

He said, “Cool!” (C’mon Braeden, could you show a little devastation? For me?)

I’ve had a pit in my stomach for days.

I talked to Adam on the phone last night (still in London). I said, “I wish you were here to tell me that I’m overreacting and he’ll be fine.” He said, “You’re overreacting. He’ll be fine.” Then he added, “It is a pretty big deal though…and he’s never done anything like this.”

I didn’t know whether to be grateful for the validation or not. It is comfortable sometimes to think you’re just overreacting.

So I didn’t sleep well and wasn’t hungry for my breakfast this morning. I made sure Braeden’s little backpack was packed…dictionary, thesaurus, calculator, protractor, two number 2 pencils. I checked and re checked his lunch. Braeden casually ate his Cheerios and made jokes with Emma.

In the van I asked him how he was feeling. He said, “Fine…maybe a little nervous but just because I don’t know what it’s going to be like the first day.” (Do we share the same DNA?) Ever able to read me, he said, “Are you nervous Mom?’

“Oh, no,” I lied, “What do I have to be nervous about?”

We got to the Boys and Girl’s Club and he said, “I can just go in Mom. You don’t have to take me.” What?! I told him I needed to sign him in anyway. While we were walking to the door I thought this whole thing might be easier if he was sobbing and clinging to my leg. I never should have set him down when he was a toddler. He’s been moving away from me ever since and I’m not ready for this.

I shook the hand of the teacher in charge of his testing. She looked very young. Is she reliable? Will she take care of my baby? Braeden walked confidently over to the table to get a nametag and greet the other kids clustered around a table. I thought, I guess that’s it. I walked over to say good-bye, unsure how he’d feel about any display of affection. I said, “Good-bye Braeden.” He said, “See ya Mom,” and threw his arms around my waist in a quick hug.

He knew I needed the reassurance.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pathetic vs. Enlightened

Adam left for London on Tuesday so I told our kids that we’d have a celebration on Monday night. Braeden thought that was very rude to celebrate the fact that he was leaving but I assured him it was more of a celebration of how much we love him and acknowledgement of how much we’d miss him. Braeden grudgingly accepted that.

I planned pizza for dinner (Adam’s favorite) and asked Adam to pick up root beer and ice cream on his way home from work for Family Home Evening refreshments…root beer floats being a favorite of Adam’s. I know what you’re thinking…what a good wife!

So Adam promptly forgot the root beer and ice cream. He got home and said, “I’ll go to the store right now.” (I wonder if he’d have been so willing if it was something like a can of soup that he’d forgotten?) He gave me a somewhat wicked grin and asked, “Do you want to come with me?”

I did a quick survey. The pizza dough was raising, Emma was at her friend Eshna’s house and Braeden’s friend Dillon was over at our house. I told Braeden and Dillon they were in charge of Mark. (Dillon’s 13 so I was completely legal.) We hurried out to the car and it felt like the last day of school or changing into tennis shoes after trudging around the playground in heavy snow boots all recess. What a thrill! An impromptu trip to the grocery store alone with Adam!

We bypassed the shopping carts and headed straight for the freezer case. No pushing Mark in one of those carts with a car in the front. No telling him to stick his head in the little car window so he doesn’t bash it into anything. No telling Mark to climb down from the top of the car where he climbs every time I slow the shopping cart down. We just walked to the freezer case.

We had a slight delay over the vanilla ice cream because Adam wanted to buy the very cheapest possible ice cream and I had to remind him that you can only make a truly good root beer float with the really good ice cream with little vanilla bean specks. Sometimes I need to help Adam when it comes to the finer things of life. We grabbed a 2 liter of root beer and were in and out of the checkout line in a flash. No one asked for candy. No one hung upside down on the bars separating checkout stands and no one asked to push the button after I zipped my credit card through the machine. Adam grabbed the grocery bag and I grabbed his other hand and we walked back to our car in a state of bliss.

How pathetic are our lives that a trip to the grocery store that took about 15 minutes was such a highlight?

Maybe though, we’re very enlightened…able to enjoy the small moments where we can steal them. I’ll choose the latter. I have to take what I can get.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Three Car Seats; Will Travel

I figured I could do it. No problem. I’m a strong woman from pioneer stock. I have an ancestor who walked to the West while eight months pregnant. Surely I could make an 800-mile trip from Seattle to rural Nevada to visit my parents in an air-conditioned minivan. With my three children. Alone.

We left home in high spirits. We were armed with good driving music, a menagerie of stuffed animals and action figures and the indispensable car tv/vcr. As we pulled into our first gas station, a pattern emerged. Six-year old Braeden said he needed to go to the bathroom. Four-year old Emma declared adamantly that she did not. I told her to go anyway and then she couldn’t find one of her sandals. Seven-month old Mark, awakened from his motion-induced reverie, started to fuss, then wail.

Back on the road I found myself in the vicious cycle of trying to keep my children, accustomed to the mild moist weather of the Pacific northwest, hydrated as we drove across the desert and dealing with the bathroom breaks. And they were often. And I know what every mother knows. When they say it’s an emergency, it is.

As the minutes ticked by faster than the miles I also learned two important truths. Lesson number one: Fast food is worth its weight in gold. I had resolved to be the Good Mother. We weren’t going to fill up on junk food while we drove. I had a carefully packed cooler of sandwiches (made with wheat bread no less), string cheese, grapes and yes, chocolate pudding (I have a soul after all). I pulled off the freeway in sunny Prosser, Washington at a grassy rest area. I pictured the idyllic scene of a leisurely family picnic. What looked sunny and pleasant from my air-conditioned vantage point was really a blistering 104 degrees and the scrubby tree we cowered under for shade didn’t help much. The jar of baby food that I was feeding to Mark ended up largely on my leg, which I was using to corral him while I tried to feed him. The kids actually begged me to get back into the van. Dinnertime found us in Ontario, Oregon where it was 110 degrees. We found refuge in a fast food restaurant, scooping up French fries dipped in dangerous amounts of ketchup and soaking up the air conditioning. For the rest of the trip I abandoned all pretense of being the Good Mother and sought kids’ meal toys—which are a lifesaving new distraction as long as each child’s is EXACTLY the same—and a grimy high chair to keep the pureed peaches more in Mark’s mouth and less on me.

Lesson number two: Wear pants with an elasticized waist. Unwilling to put him on the questionable floors of public restrooms, I had to tuck a very squirmy Mark under my arm to button and unbutton my jeans. Enough said; lesson learned.

When we finally got to my parents’ house, the quiet setting and stillness soothed my soul. I told my dad I was never happier to be anywhere and I told Adam on the phone that I was never coming back. If he wanted me, he’d have to come and get me. I guess like giving birth, you forget the pain though because after a few days of not being in the van it didn’t seem so bad. By the time our week’s visit was over, I had mustered enough courage for the drive home.

Our return journey taught its own lessons. I learned that no amount of scolding and muttering under my breath will change the fact that Braeden can’t open the van door from inside if the child lock has been accidentally activated. Luckily Braeden is very forgiving. Also, even if you think you’re cleverly taking a shortcut, if the road is unfamiliar and you’re not sure of the speed limit, you just might get a ticket from one of Oregon’s finest. It didn’t help that I was sorely distracted by Mark, who’d had it and was screaming and by Braeden and Emma who had to yell at each other to be heard over the racket Mark was making. The police officer that pulled me over had little sympathy for my plight. Chuckling, he looked into the backseat at Mark. “Well someone’s not happy,” he said as he handed me my ticket. Actually two of us weren’t very happy.

After we’d arrived home and gathered up all the toys from the van floor (somehow they multiply), Adam asked me if it had been worth the trip. I told him to ask me again in a few days. I’ve thought about it though and when I remember my children snuggled on my mother’s lap in the still twilight, having just witnessed a brilliant Nevada sunset from the front porch, I know I’d do it again. When I remember Braeden and his grandpa laughing at each other’s jokes or Emma, with about thirty barrettes in her hair lovingly placed by her cousin, I know it really was a great trip. I think more than the endless driving and fighting in the backseat over whose SPYKIDS 3 glasses were whose, my kids will remember me showing them my childhood swimming hole and their grandma telling them stories about listening to the same crickets when she was a little girl. I know I will.

Beige Suburb Blues

A while ago, I felt like I was drowning a beige death in the suburbs. How many possible shades of beige can houses be painted? Sometimes the suburbs really drag me down. Everyone is the same. Everyone in their big houses and small yards and mini vans and SUVs and fences the exact height that the homeowners' association dictates. Adam said that maybe I need to make more friends...get involved in more groups. NO! I need to be a part of FEWER things. I want to be just a little bit different. I want to be unique and less like these blander than dry toast suburbs. That's when I think I lost him. I don't completely get it myself. I grew up in very rural Nevada and while it does my soul so much good to go there periodically and look at the uninterrupted horizons and the enormous sky, I really don't want to go back there permanently. Costco and Target and the library and the doctors and dentists are just so very convenient here!

On the other hand, I am not ready to move to the city. I like the relative safety of the 'burbs and being able to send my kids out to play and know that they're safe. It's nice and quiet here on my street.

So what IS it I want? I don't know. At the pinnacle of this I'm-going-crazy-because-of-the-suburbs crisis, (and it was really less crisis and more inner whining), we were driving as a family through downtown Seattle and Adam, who is always much better at spontaneity than I am, decided to stop and have us wander through Freeway Park which is a park downtown that is built over the freeway--hence the name. There were all sorts of zany characters in the park and they looked at us with the same curiosity that we looked at them. Why are those school-age kids not in school? Where did that kid with the red curly hair get all of that energy? Why are their parents ambling along holding hands in the middle of the day? I felt like I could breathe again.

I think I've come to the conclusion that occasionally--regularly-- I need to step off the hamster wheel that is my life and take time to do things like write an old friend a long email, or make sugar cookies with my kids or do something creative. The never ending cycles of laundry, home-schooling, cooking, cleaning, cub scouts, piano lessons and flossing my teeth every day can not be what my life is about--who I am. If they are then I will always have this silent whining going on in my head.

So I am not the sum total of my to-do list (or more accurately what I didn't get done on my to-do list). I am someone with children, a husband and friends. I can make my house look fairly presentable if given about 15 minutes, I am really good at making brownies and finding good deals at the grocery store. We have a pathetic little yard and a beige house in the suburbs where we are safe and comfortable and usually pretty happy. And that's a rather impressive resume.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I read that nearly one in six women take antidepressants. That astounded me. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a medicine enthusiast. I take Advil at the first sign of a headache and Dimetapp at the first sign of a sniffle. Also, if I felt now like I did when I had post partum depression, I’d be signing up somewhere for an antidepressant. I started thinking about antidepressants though. Surely I’m as unsteady as at least some of those one in six women (just ask Adam if you need proof—he’ll tell you). Why don’t I need antidepressants?

It’s because of my friends. They are human antidepressants. Marie in high school whose companionship assured me that although I was out of step with the comings and goings of what girls in my school were supposed to be doing, I was someone. I was part of Marie and Thelma, best friends. I was going places. Erin and Jamee and Rachel in college who laughed with me and led me on adventures when home was far away and boys didn’t return my crushes and studying was too mind numbing.

Then I married and moved across the country, to a place where I knew no one and no one knew me. I still had the lifeline of the phone but when I looked out my window at the foreign country that was New Haven, Connecticut, I was on my own. Then I met Apryl, then Mindy, then Lisa. They taught me as much as Parent’s magazine how to be a mother. We refereed our preschoolers’ playgroups and took walks together behind strollers. We celebrated each other’s pregnancies and births and children’s birthdays. I belonged to a group. When I gave birth to Emma and months later contracted mono, they were at the helm, caring not only for me but my children.

Our husbands finished their degrees and the relentless current of life separated us all from there. I moved on to California and right next door to Patty. Patty, the ultimate antidepressant. Never had I found a kindred spirit so quickly. It wasn’t very long at all until my day wasn’t complete unless I’d checked in with Patty and chatted. She was the one I turned to when Adam lost his job. I remember where I was sitting in her cozy apartment and the look of concern on her face as she handed me Kleenex and just listened, murmuring her condolences at all the right places.

My (let’s hope) final stop was to Washington. In Washington there’s Maria who threw me a baby shower and gave me more love and attention than anyone deserves. There was Anna who took daily walks with me, again behind strollers, and always amazed me with her deft handling of everything. You need friends like that to inspire you. Then there’s Janet. Janet, who I could talk to all day. Janet, who’s seen me at my worst and listened to me cry and who loves me anyway. If everyone had a Janet in their life there would be no therapists.

I am also lucky to have the slow release, long lasting antidepressants that are my sisters. My friends, to my constant dismay and sorrow, come and go as moves happen and life changes but my sisters are always there. It’s my sisters that saw me through glasses and braces and really bad hair. They were there through mean cousins, summer jobs as waitresses in casinos, and unfortunate fashion sense. They were with me in college and took a great deal of the edge off homesickness. Now they’re on the phone, reminding me who I am and where I came from and that they know me better than that.

So I’m one of the five out of six that doesn’t take antidepressants. I’m sure I could easily be one of the 1/6th, but I have my friends. They listen.

Useless Information

I wish the space in my brain that held useless information would relinquish some of it to the storage of useful information that I have a hard time hanging onto.

I can remember the birthdays of most of the kids I went to elementary school with. These are kids that are permanently frozen in time in my mind because I never see them or even think about them now…except for occasionally on their birthdays. Tanya Linnell, May 31: Brian McIntosh, August 30: Wyatt Winchell and Roland Archuleta, March 5: Aurora Salazar, April 4.

I can not remember how to order prints of pictures I took from with my digital camera on even though Adam has shown me several times how to do it. It would be useful to know how.

I can remember the cheers that were chanted at high school basketball and football games and pep rallies. I wasn’t a cheerleader. I no longer live in the same town or even go to high school basketball or football games in my current town. But I know all the cheers. “L-L-L-E-O, P-P-P-A-R, L-E-O, P-A-R, Dddddddddd-S!” (We were the Wells Leopards.) “California Grapefruit, Arizona Cactus, We play your team just for practice.” “Our boys are F-I-N-E fine on the L-I-N-E line and we L-O-V-E love them all the T-I-M-E time. They are the B-E-S-T best of all the R-E-S-T rest and we L-O-V-E love them all the T-I-M-E time.” I could go on and on.

I can not remember directions to anyplace unless I’ve driven there at least 5-10 times. (Riding there in a car does not help.) It would be useful to remember directions. But I can’t.

Today I got three Happy Meals at McDonald’s. One for each kid. The toys were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Emma said, “Mom, did you know that one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is named Leonardo?” To them TMNT are at the cutting edge of new toys. I said that as a matter of fact I did and that the other turtles were named Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. (I didn’t realize that I knew this useless information but I did have a cousin who was VERY into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.) Braeden looked at me with a mixture of awe and respect that only a ten year old who calls all of his friends “Dude” can achieve. He asked, “How did you KNOW that?” I basked in the pleasure of his admiration—which happens less and less the taller he gets. I guess that sometimes, useless information comes in handy.


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