Category Archives: Life

Breaking and entering

The details of a door
The details of a door

When I was in Nepal, I felt as if the place could make anyone a photographer; perhaps, because I came back from that trip looking at the world in a very different way, and some of the photos I took while I was there became a kind of home.  Something to return to when lost, or confused, or in need of comfort.

Port Townsend, I think, can make anyone a writer.  I come here, and the stories come like the tides, regularly, with a rhythm.  Take pictures with the good early light.  Write in the morning.  Cobweb clearing.  Walk the dog at the lagoon, the ducks quacking their laughter behind my steps.  Find somewhere to be in the world.  Watching people.  Recognizing family features in the faces of people I either haven’t seen in nearly two decades, or, squinting my eyes perplexed, trying to figure out how the little boy I grew up with is still nine (he isn’t; he’s the child of the little boy I grew up with).  Revisiting old places; most of which aren’t even familiar.  Some are.  Listening to stories, having the kind of easy conversation with strangers that I became accustomed to while trekking.  The kind that I’d forgotten were familiar, until spending a month’s worth of weekends in my home town, and noticing them again.  Impulse to write in the afternoon.  That time, the kind of writing I feel like sharing.  Like right now.

This afternoon’s task was to clean out the remaining six or seven boxes in my parents’ basement that I’d squirreled away down there either fifteen or twenty years (depending on the box) ago.  By volume, the boxes contain mostly books; next, paper of other kinds — that paper is the reason I didn’t just tell my parents to chuck the boxes, contents and all.  I wondered if, by taking the time to go through those boxes, I could come to know myself better.  For various reasons, I don’t remember much at all from my childhood or teen years, and perhaps the scraps of paper in those boxes might give me  a few more stories from those times before.  The rest of the contents were treasures-then-junk-now: trophies, ribbons, dried flowers, old magazines and newspaper clippings… I didn’t take the time to figure out why I’d saved each piece.  The books: sorted into a box to donate, except for a few.  The papers: sorted roughly into another box to keep, the rest recycled.  The other stuff: unceremoniously sorted into boxes to donate, recycle, trash.  All things I might have gotten rid of years before, if I’d learned sooner how to let go of things.

I didn’t learn that skill at home, growing up.  As I started sorting through the first box, my dad looking over my shoulder, my mother sitting on the stairs to the basement, I remembered something.  When we cleaned our rooms growing up, we’d get a talking to from our normally unflappable, full-of-smiles-and-love dad if we threw away anything of use.  That’s fair, of course, except that dad’s definition of “anything of use” was quite generous.  A single dangly earring, found run over by our car tires in our driveway: of use.  For example.  So learning to let go of things is something I learned long after leaving their house.  I was thirty one or thirty two, I can’t quite do the math right now, and I packed my camping and climbing gear in my roof box, my law practice’s files into a laundry basket, and a bag or two of clothes and drove away from the home I’d tried and failed to make for myself.

Things, let go of.

My early programming is still there, though — and strong — while going through boxes in my parents’ basement.  I did my best.  In the course of the month, I got through all of the boxes but two.  And I found what I was looking for.  Stories and poems and letters and pictures I didn’t remember and my high school newspapers and some newspaper clippings that I’m glad I saved, and research I did that I don’t recall an ounce of, but I’m intrigued to rediscover.

Apparently, I crafted a survey about peoples’ use of the internet, in 1995.  I posted the survey on newsgroups (remember those?) and people emailed me their responses.  From all over the world.  And I’m not sure what I did with the results — I only found print-outs of some of their emails, and my tallies of data, and a three page write-up on some of the “personalities” that had responded.  At first, I’d tossed it all in the recycle bag.  One box saved, the rest let go of.  And the one box saved, likely still with some clearing out to do.

I carried the heavy box to save up the stairs to the kitchen.  I washed my hands of the dust and grime that comes with a few hours spent in the basement.  I went into the living room to check on Gibson, and the front door wasn’t how I left it.  The little door that covers the old window out to the world was open.  I got chills: that door doesn’t open easily.  I’d left the door unlocked.  Was someone in the house?  Impossible: Gibson would have alerted.  But the chills wouldn’t go away.  I locked the door and latched the chain, second-guessing the decision, since if this were a horror movie, I’d have just locked myself in the house with whatever specter had opened the little window’s door.

When Megan and I were little and shared an upstairs bedroom, the bedroom that I’ve been sleeping in every weekend this month, the house would creak and groan and we’d be scared.  The story I remember is that a little old lady lived in the attic, and she had a rocking chair.  And when we were babies, she’d rock us to sleep in the rocking chair, and that was the creaking we’d hear:  the sound of her rocking chair.  And I think it was my mother who told the story — again, I can’t really remember.  And it was intended to calm us, to help us feel safe, to let us know that there was a benevolent grandmotherly figure in the attic, who loved us and kept us safe.  But in my mind, the little old lady in the attic was creepy.  And there were other creepy things in that house… my sister had dreams or ghosts or a prolific imagination, I don’t know which, but the upstairs and the basement have always given me the creeps.  The only safe floor, the only one without those haunted places, is the main floor.  And today, with the inexplicable window opening — Ryan at school, my mom and dad gone for the weekend, me in the house alone with Gibson — even the main floor felt its age.  Like a house built in the early 1900s that had seen it all.

I decided to retrieve my “internet anthropology” research from the basement.  I just was too curious to see what stories might be found in there; what insights might be gleaned.  As I was digging through the box of recycling, I heard the basement door above me blow closed.  I thought nothing of it.  It happens, in this house — drafts close doors.  Perhaps they open windows.  The make noises.  I was glad Gibson was sleeping happily on the sofa upstairs.

Until I went back up to finish packing and tried the basement door and found it locked.  From the inside.  Ghost, draft, little old attic lady — whatever closed the door, decided to lock the deadbolt as well.

I didn’t even bother hurrying to the front door — I could remember the feeling of the chain on my fingers, that I’d latched, from the inside, that would prevent the key in my pocket from allowing me entry.

I called Terry.  The locksmith.  Port Townsend has one, I think.  As I dialed the number, I pondered the logistics: Sunday noon.  Ryan needs his lunch.  The dog is locked in the house.  We’re in Port Townsend.  I’d imagine Terry doesn’t work 24/7.  How much damage would I have to do to my parents’ post-Victorian, home, in order to regain entry?

Miraculously, Terry answered the phone.  He was just leaving town on his way to Bainbridge Island.  He turned around, and came to my rescue.  I was still shaking, and sweating, when he arrived; he quizzed me about whether I had permission to enter the house; about what proof I could show him that I had any business being there.  Being Port Townsend, he quizzed me only hard enough for him to believe me; not enough to actually prove anything.  As he worked, he asked how I’d wound up in this predicament, and I told him.  I mostly told the whole story, a little bit abbreviated; when I confided how creeped out I was, he just smiled.  “These old houses,” he said.  “It was probably the sunshine:  it warms them up, and makes them creak and move.  Or — it could be haunted.  You never know.  I’ve seen stranger things.”

And he was kind to me, and reached through the three-inch gap the front door would make with the chain I’d latched still latched and scratched Gibson’s nose.  And I watched him try three different methods of breaking and entering my parents old house; its defenses stronger than most he works on.  I thought about the business of breaking into peoples’ houses for money, at their request.  I’d imagine that you become quite the judge of character, in that job.  The stories he’d have to tell.

In the end, the house yielded, with no damage done.  Gibson was fine.  Ryan hitched a ride uptown with his teacher, and we met him and still had time for lunch, and I told him about the papers I’d gone back for and he agreed, although inconvenient and expensive to retrieve them, it was probably worth it.  And Gibson played on the pocket beach next to Waterfront Pizza while Ryan ate slices heavy with Linguisa and I watched the water and gazed across the blue at Indian Island, a still-operating Naval munitions base, where bombs, bullets and missiles get loaded into marine vessels headed out to sea.

So strange.

This place.

So strange.

And beautiful.

I left this place nearly as thoroughly and completely as I left my Poulsbo home; leaving behind boxes and people and stories and parts of myself.  And it’s been a gift to come back; to be here long enough to know my parents a little differently.  Acceptance.  Love.  To do the work of going through boxes and finding stories from a much younger me.  To find, as I move around town, old names popping into my head as I look at houses and faces.

Remembering.

 

 

Eighty-six years old

“Some people are just warm-blooded,” the man in the cap sitting on the bench at the bus stop observed with a smile.  He was watching a teenaged boy with spiky blonde hair out for a run.  The boy jogged in place at the corner, waiting for his light to turn. He wore a white tank top and red basketball shorts; I second-guessed the light jacket I’d chosen, as the chill of the upcoming fall is already in the air in the mornings and evenings.  I smiled, and nodded.

“Not me!” I said, loudly, knowing that he’s hard of hearing, since we’ve chatted about the weather at the same bus stop on a number of other days.

“Me neither,” he commented with a smile and a shake of his head.  “When you get older, you get colder,” he continued, “and that’s the truth!”

He was chattier than usual.  Perhaps I appeared more engaging this morning with our old 35 mm camera slung around my neck — I have to finish this roll of film and get it developed before my class next week, and the camera wouldn’t fit in my backpack.  So yes — I’m THAT girl.  Analog camera slung around my neck, while I wait for my bus.  I’d been composing a photograph during my walk up the block — him, on the bus stop bench; the fence in the yard across the sidewalk, the trees framing the view — how could I frame it, which way would I have him look — I do this in my head, and then I don’t take the picture.  That’ll change — one of these days I’ll just ask someone if I can take their picture; tell them I’m a photography student if I have to, to feel less like a creep — but for now, I’m still stuck in my own shyness, when it comes to street photography.  I get to keep the images in my memory, so it’s not a total loss.  But it means there’s no photo to go along with this post, and it gets published today instead of in a week when I get my roll of film back.

Different people have different reactions to our old cameras.  They’re definitely eye-catching, in this day of digital and iPhones.  It’s impossible to pull out either of them — the 35 mm or my Yashica Mat — without someone making a comment.  “That’s a cool camera,” is the norm.  During one day out with my Yashica, a man asked, incredulously, “Is that an old black and white camera?” and I smiled and said yes, because, at the time, I had black and white film loaded in it, so technically, he was correct.  The camera IS old.  Or, rather, it’s older than me — likely hailing from sometime around 1963 — and the photos that would emerge from that roll of film (if it hadn’t been destroyed by the photo lab) would have been black and white.

“I’m eighty six years old, you know,” the man at the bus stop observed.

My “old” camera (and myself, despite another upcoming flip of the calendar pages) are mere puppies.

I shook my head, squinted my eyes to get a closer look.  “Did I hear you right?  Eighty-six years old?” I asked, incredulously.

“Eighty-six years old,” he reiterated, with a smile, and a twinkle in his eye.

“Well I’d like to know your secrets to longevity,” I remarked, patting myself on the back for taking the time to apply sunscreen this morning before leaving the house.

“That’s why I go downtown — to get out of the house, and keep myself moving.  You have to keep moving.  Move your legs, to move your heart, I say.  And that’s the truth.”

I nodded.  He gazed down the street, toward where our bus would come from.

I asked what he does when he goes downtown, gesturing north, toward the direction we were both about to head.  He has breakfast, and drinks coffee.  This is Seattle, after all.

“I’m Gracie.  What’s your name?” I asked, using the nickname I’m known by close to home and starting to extend my hand, to introduce myself.  He didn’t hear me; and didn’t see my body language, he just watched for the bus.

I can’t imagine the amount of change he’s seen, I thought to myself.  I wondered if he’d always lived in Seattle, and where else his path had taken him.  The communication challenge was a tough one:  I don’t think he hears much, at all.  I couldn’t think of a gesture to pantomime, for “How long have you lived here?”

“I’ve lived here since I was five years old,” he started, unprompted.  “I’ve seen so much change,” he continued.  “My father and I lived over on Rainier Beach, Columbia City.  We moved to High Point when I was five.  High Point was a forest, back then.”

I stop asking questions, because he can’t hear them anyway; given thirty seconds or so of a pause, he’ll launch into another topic, usually strangely responsive to the question that’s framed like a thought bubble in my head.  My phone stays in my pocket, this morning — I’d rather listen to his stories.  I studied his face, the light, the shadows.  I didn’t take a picture.

I think of my grandfather.  After he retired, he kept his office at the University, and would go to his office for office hours long after he no longer worked there.  The man at the bus stop reminds me a little bit of my grandpa.  He wears glasses, and the skin on his face and hands is weathered like my grandfather’s was.  He wears the same kind of hat — a flat cap made of soft wool.

Neighbors

A year ago last June, I packed up my boxes and disassembled my full-sized bed and pulled my ski and climbing gear out of Teresa’s gearage’s loft and moved it all to Ryan’s house, and took two carloads of unnecessaries to Goodwill and another carload to the dump.  Which all sounds like a lot of stuff, but aside from my outdoor gear, I’d been living in a ten by twelve space, so there really just wasn’t that much.  As part of my move-in, I revisited my storage unit — a strange mix of legal files I have to keep for the required number of years before returning them to their actual owners, my old clients; and some odds and ends and a handful of pieces of furniture.  A few boxes came out of storage; their contents re-examined, and then tucked back into their boxes awaiting a garage sale or Goodwill.

The oldest stuff is easiest to let go of.  That stuff is from a past life so distant it hardly feels like my own.  It’s the middle stuff that’s hard to let go of:  the sleeper chair and storage ottoman acquired for my first apartment after my divorce:  the only real furniture I had in there, save for my bed and a folding wood table my dad made out of 2x4s or old pallets, I can’t remember which, that was my parents’ Hibatchi holder and became my mini dining table.  And the BBQ table went back to its rightful owners (I think?) and the bed wound up in my parents’ guestroom when everything else went into storage and I hit the road for six weeks — the longest period of homeless I’ve had.  I was on the road for work for most of that time; sleeping on friends’ couches, the rest.  And during that six weeks, I worked an event down in Las Vegas and my friend Christian re-introduced me to his friend Teresa who I’d met briefly at a party before — and Teresa needed a roommate, and I needed a room, so after six weeks of being in-between, and the day after Teresa’s dog Maile gave me two paws up, I moved into Teresa’s guest-room.  I bought myself a bed — the first bed I’d picked out all by myself, ever.  It was a Full, because I was getting used to sleeping alone, and wanted a bed just for me, not for sharing.  And, I knew that once that stage was over, that small bed was like a litmus test:  I never wanted to share my life with someone with whom I wasn’t completely comfortable sleeping in a Full-size bed.

It’s those things in the middle that are hard to let go of.  The sleeper chair and storage ottoman that became a safe place for beloved girlfriends after hard break-ups and shitty divorces.  The bed I chose so intentionally for myself, after such a long period of in-between-ness.  The bed found its way into our little guest sleeping space, which happens to be painted yellow — the color I painted my room’s walls at Teresa’s.  It’s a little strange now, depending on the bedding I choose when I make the guest bed… that room can be a near reproduction of my room at Teresa’s.  There’s both comfort and dissonance in that, and that’s okay.  I usually choose other bedding, so that it looks different:  a mix of mine and his and ours, so it’s less like a re-creation of my time before him.

The sleeper chair came out of storage — hauled over to Seattle from Bremerton, filling up almost the entire back of Ryan’s Element.  It took us a whole day to go over there, get into my unit, dig out the chair and a few boxes, load up the car, spend some time with friends, then come back home.  It took us another day to move it into the house, only to look at it in the future office and realize, with an unexpected degree of emotion on my part, that it just didn’t fit in the new home that I was trying to make my space in.  I’m having a strange sense of deja vu writing this — so I apologize if I’ve already told this story.  So back into the Element it went, back into the storage unit, back into the place that is the bridge to my past.

But none of this is what I sat down to write about today.

So perhaps I ought to get to the point.  If there is one.

It’s taken me over a year of living here — and a year and a half of sleeping here — to really start unpacking.  A little bit, it’s because it’s such a small space; a little bit, it’s because Ryan’s already got most of the place decorated to an absolute T, so it’s not like there’s much other than personal belongings and the occasional unanimous-love-at-first-sight-moment with a piece of furniture for me to contribute.  When I was working from here full time, I picked out a different sleeper chair and a beautiful desk for the office, but we never really finished the room.  This weekend, while Ryan dug in the vegetable garden (the garden where we’re putting in our fall and winter crops, and thinking of next spring and summer’s harvest) I cleaned out the entire office room, and made it ours.  When we find the right credenza, and we get the mustard yellow stripe we have planned painted, and when I choose which of my photos from Nepal to enlarge and print for the walls, it’ll be our music / guest / sewing / writing / reading / photography / meditation room… which sounds chaotic, but it’s basically the room that we have to do the things we love.  And Gibson has a bed in there, and when our outside guestroom is full, it’s the overflow for indoor guests.  And it really is becoming ours, and that made me feel giddy all day today, even through all the Mondayishness of a Monday at the non-home office.

And two weeks ago, the neighbor’s tree split in half, and came down on top of our fence early in the morning on a Thursday.  And it was disorienting to walk Gibson out the back door that morning to an unfamiliar sight of a tree occupying the space formerly leading to our back gate.  The house next door has been a rental for some time, owned by someone we only met when the tree fell, a friendly man who came over to let us know he’d take care of whatever was damaged.  And fairly expeditiously, he did take care of most of what had been damaged; and what he hasn’t, the former renter — who’s since moved around the block to his new house — went out of his way to help with.  The whole thing was just so wonderfully neighborly.

And tonight, our neighbors on the other side sent a note because their contractor fell through at the last minute, and they needed a referral for someone who may be able to help them with a project on short notice.  They’re the neighbors who own the salon a block away, where Ryan and I both get our hair cut.  They also gave us an antler for Gibson when she was a baby, in part so that she could get familiar with the scent of their dog, Diesel, before the two met in person (my eyes are welling up thinking about that).  And since, we’ve had I don’t know how many haircuts and dog play dates and chit chats and goodness, I just love those guys.  And after adopting Gibson we’ve met and created relationships with other neighbors, and I really treasure each of them.

It’s a strange thing to realize that (un)intentionally (or intentionally, and more slowly than I expected, in fits and starts), I’ve built myself a home here.  This place “felt like home” right away… and it becomes home more and more with each project we do together, each storage problem we solve together, and each crop we plant and harvest together.  And we’re doing all of this at our pace, and “our” doesn’t mean mine, or his, or mine plus his divided by two.  It’s something other than that, and when it’s a Monday night and I’m typing a blog post sitting on his sofa, with our little dog curled up asleep against my arm, an outstanding record on the record player, Ryan sitting on the floor tapping on his phone smelling vaguely of wet soil after spending another evening digging until past dark to create more vegetable garden for us to work and plant and harvest together, I just feel so. Incredibly. Lucky.

To be here, now, with what’s around me, around me.

 

Becoming an aunt.

It’s a little overwhelming to even sit down to write, tonight.  It’s been so long since I put pen to paper — or rather, fingers to keyboard — for anyone to read, as opposed to the pages of my trusty journal, that it’s a bit daunting to even decide where to begin.  So I’ll just start right here.

There’s an eerie breeze through the leaves of the cherry tree in the backyard that sounds like a storm coming.  We’re having unseasonably warm temperatures in Seattle, and even though it’s past sunset and the chill of the impending fall is unmistakable when you step outside, the inside of the house is still sun-warmed from earlier.  Gibson’s nearly a dog now — I can barely call her a puppy, anymore, as her first birthday-ish (since we have no way to know the precise date) approaches.  Where a few months ago she’d be ceaselessly asking for my attention (or getting into mischief) if I had the audacity to sit down to write a blog post, tonight she’s happily laying by my feet, chewing on a bone, her ears alert like she’s listening for something but her eyes relaxed in the sort of trance that she finds when she chews.  She has a good life here, and she’s growing into a really wonderful dog.

And aside from that, I’m adjusting to my routine of nine to five-ish, in an old fashioned high-rise in downtown Seattle.  I like the days I ride the bus — it reminds me of back when I used to ride a motorcycle everywhere and I was intimately in touch with the changing seasons at all times.  I like peoplewatching, and having time to read, or taking time to just stare out the window at other people driving to work.  And I like the building I go to with its gilded features and elevator operators who dispense wisdom like fortunes, and the people I work with there.  It’s an oddly good fit for me — a mentor once told me that I might be unemployable, and I think he might be wrong.  I’ve got plenty to learn there, but I’ve found a place again where there are people I know I can learn from — I’d say, a “rare” place, but somehow it seems to be getting less rare.  Everywhere I go, I find myself observing what I can learn from the people I encounter.  Sometimes the teacher, now, sometimes the student.

Megan, on her first full day of motherhood.
Megan, on her first full day of motherhood.

The biggest shift in my world started happening on June 30th, when my sister’s twins decided to make their entry into the world.  My eyes are welling up just thinking about what to even say about it — I’d say something in me shifted when I met those babies for the first time, but really, the earthquake hasn’t stopped.  I’ve never been terribly attached to a particular identity… I’ve tried on a few, for size, and they haven’t stuck — or at least, haven’t stuck exclusively.  I’m still part-lawyer (although, presently unlicensed, and finding myself putting time, money and energy into learning how to shoot film photography instead of signing up for the continuing legal education I need to complete to reinstate my license … perhaps, I’ll get my priorities in order after this photography class).  I’m still part-climber, recreationally, relaxedly, without the kind of all-consuming drive that guided me, for a few years, there.  I’m no longer anyone’s wife — that one didn’t stick, the first time around.  And there are plenty of other identities I’ve just not yet had the opportunity to try on, or not been driven to seek out.

But “aunt…”

that one I was pretty stoked to try on for size.

The rhythm of auntiness didn’t come immediately — I felt nervous and awkward the first time I held those fragile-seeming little people; I soaked up everything I could from listening in on the nurses while they coached Megan and Aaron through the twins’ first days, and even so, required a Diapering 101 lesson before babysitting for the first time.  And then there are the things that you only learn by doing:  the right rhythm to bounce each baby (since they have different preferences); how to heat up a bottle while holding a crying baby (someday, someone, is going to make a bottle system that you can operate from start to finish with one hand).  There’s developing your spidey sense for knowing when to give space and when to show up with a skillet full of dinner to leave on the porch. There’s a newfound comfort in engaging with other people’s kids… to a certain degree, I think, you have to just shake off your self-consciousness and be silly — whether it’s singing silly songs to soothe a crying kiddo, or making funny faces to try to head off a meltdown, or turning the baby bounce into dance steps (my balboa experience is coming in quite handy — Meg’s baby girl seems to like that one a lot).

There’s the satisfaction of Megan and I simultaneously soothing fussy babes in a breakfast restaurant, with them both falling asleep just in time for us to eat most of our breakfast with both of our hands.  There’s the watching Megan and her husband in awe of their ability to do this — anyone will tell you that having twins is not easy.  And seeing it all up close:  whoa.  “They’ve got their hands full” has a whole new meaning.  And again, I find myself observing and learning and am just infinitely grateful that those two made ME an auntie.

And inevitably, after I gush about my latest adventure in auntie-ness, whoever’s listening asks, “So are you catching the baby bug,” as in, “are you going to hurry up and get on that program, Sara?” and I try hard to answer politely, even though I think that questions about peoples’ plans with regard to childbearing should be left to only the closest of friends and family who know all of the intimate details about just why and where a person is on the kids spectrum, and know the nature of the worms in the can before they open it.  And I remind myself that I’m only 36 (although, to be fair, 37 is approaching like a freight train) and have abundant time to make those decisions thoughtfully, in time.  And then I come back to the present, where I’m totally in love with this new role of aunt.

I have a whole new appreciation for the fierce, and dedicated love I’ve felt from my aunts for my whole life… I’ve always felt so incredibly lucky for the love and care of this amazing pack of women, and now… whoa.  WHOA.  Am I ever grateful to have learned auntiehood from the absolute best.

So that’s where I’ve been.  Becoming an auntie.  And loving it.

Pointing at a spot on the map, again.

Another dot on the map.
Another dot on the map.

Ryan had a four day weekend, and but for teaching all day on Saturday I did too.  It was blissful… not the pre-Gibson blissful of leisurely late mornings lounging around and brunching when most other people were starting to think about their dinner plans, but the bliss of time together without the interruption of work and with our cell phones turned off except for the occasional phone camera exception, to just be.  We had vague plans to go camping, probably to the Olympic Peninsula, maybe to somewhere that Ryan had been before with his mom and Richard, who is his chosen dad.  He wasn’t sure exactly where they’d been, but when we looked at the map, it looked about like the Upper Queets area, so that was where we decided to try first, with a vague idea that the second day we might head out to the ocean.

Sunday was our packing day; it was also my best friend Teresa’s twelve-hour layover in Seattle, with a birthday party for her and many of our friends with May birthdays.  After frying tortillas and scrambling about twenty-five eggs for the potluck burrito bar that turned out beautifully, we spent a blissful (I’m not even going to try to come up with another word to avoid redundancy — I’m just going to call it what it was) morning with friends down at Lincoln Park.  Then we headed home for the chaos of packing.

We have much still to organize, from an infrastructure standpoint, in this life of ours… I officially moved in last June, and we’re still working on getting the basics under control.  Mail.  Clothes.  Footwear.  Paperwork.  Handbags.  In a 750 square foot house with two teeny closets and no other storage:  where the hell are the handbags supposed to go?  We’ve got the attic ladder in, so that eventually we’ll be able to store some of our overflow in the attic; and bless the universe we have gear storage in the basement, and at times it’s been well-organized.  After our winter ski trip, though, we didn’t really re-organize… and even well-organized it’s just a bunch of bins with sharpie scrawlings on the outside to give some guidance about the bin contents… so our systems do need some work.  And despite that, we managed to get packed missing only a few things that we just agreed we’d make the best of without; and headed south and west, to turn north again, to head toward the spot we’d pointed to on the map.

After a long drive and a long bumpy dirt road, we arrived at upper Queets campground and it wasn’t the place Ryan had been to before, but it was gorgeous.  A high-running river along a primitive campground, and we were the only ones there.  It was also bear territory, with no bear bins, and we’d packed a tent instead of the camper for Gibson’s first tent-camping trip with us.  Despite the beauty and remoteness of the place, we headed down toward Kalaloch, knowing that the beaches from Kalaloch south were dog-friendly, and with just enough time to get settled before the sunset.

The sunset at Kalaloch.
The sunset at Kalaloch.

It was not the wilderness experience of Queets, but it was beautiful.  Gibson enjoyed romping on the beach, and I enjoyed being able to relax without worrying as much about predators for our first night in a tent with the pup.  After a morning on the beach chasing sand fleas and jumping over logs, we were grateful for the opportunity sans cell phone coverage to pull out the old fashioned atlas and decide where on the map to point to, next.  Hoh River Rainforest it was, and we headed north.

The Hoh was breathtakingly beautiful, and thanks to it being a Monday the campground was fairly quiet.  We tucked in at a lovely campsite with a short trail to a huge rocky river shore, alongside the Hoh river.  And we enjoyed our time there, planned without reading reviews, or calculating travel time, or asking for recommendations of places to stay.  We just pointed at a spot on the map and went, and then looked around once we were there to decide where to go next.

And we got home last night and it was strange to tuck Gibson in her crate while we went to dinner… we both got used to having her connected to us by leash or long line at all times.  We got used to her looking to us for cues about what she ought to be doing at nearly every moment, and to her figuring out her own drill at times — chasing bugs, or pawing at the rocks to explore what was under them, or flattening her belly out on the warm stretches of sand along the riverside, her tongue hanging out in a happy smile, alternately soaking up the sun and seeking dappled shade to settle in under.  She’s come a long way, this little dog… watching her romp around the river side, alerting to the deer walking through the campsite, and watching the tide roll in and out at the ocean … it’s hard to picture her at eight weeks old on a city’s streets with just her littermates.  I’m happy to not try too hard, and instead, to enjoy my memory’s pictures of her happy face as she bounded around with one or the other of us at the end of her long line, this weekend.

Gibson might always be my favorite co-worker.
Gibson might always be my favorite co-worker.

This morning, my plan was to catch up on a little client work and then do the unpacking and laundry; to clean out the closets and try to both reduce my footprint in our small home and make some room for some fresh things since we’ve decided to point at a new spot on the map when it comes to my work.  And that means adapting to a set schedule again, and interviewing dog-walkers for Gibson for some days of the week, and a new urgency to get our home set up the way we want before I go back to a day job, balanced with soaking up every last morning with Gibson on the sofa next to me before I start the commute to a tall office building downtown where I’ll have human co-workers again.  And while the company is dog-friendly, the building isn’t, so we’ll see to what degree those rules can be navigated.

I’ll share more details about the new gig next week, but for now I’m happy to be focused on the commitments I’ve made to clients in the meantime, as well as on the other parts of my life that need tending.  It would be nice to think that by Monday morning we could have the house tip top organized, the garden beds on their automatic watering systems, Gibson’s day-care arranged, all the boxes on my “at home” to do list checked off, and that I’ll be showered and well-put-together to make a great first impression at the office, but who am I kidding.  This is the real world.  And the list is a joke; for each item I cross off, two more things get added.  It is all a work in progress… a series of index fingers landing on the map, pointing to the next destination to check out, keeping our senses of adventure and our bemused curiosity firmly intact.    All the while, looking up and out and in, and looking down at a screen a little less, if possible.  Because there’s lots and lots to see, out there, and our next adventure to look forward to.

Little dog, big world.
Little dog, big world.

Pawternity Leave

Mama says these are my bedroom eyes, but I think she's nuts since we're in the living room.
Mama says these are my bedroom eyes, but I think she’s nuts since we’re in the living room.

I got together with a friend for a cup of coffee last week, and she mentioned while we were doing the schedule juggle that time off with a puppy is basically like maternity leave.  It kind of is.  It certainly hasn’t been vacation, and there have been far more bodily fluids involved than I ever imagined, but Gibson’s been with us for sixty-three days, and I don’t really remember what life was like before she arrived.  I am one of those people, posting puppy pictures on my Facebook, making new friends who I know only as “Parka’s Mom” or “Luna’s Dad,” doting over her maladies and behavioral quirks, chatting about poop casually with other dog parents, and frequenting the pet supply store to restock her favorite bones and toys — the toys which typically keep her insanely strong little jaws busy for all of about two and a half minutes per $10 spent.

And we’ve had our moments.  But we’ve also had moments like the one a few minutes ago, where she toddled into the office to lean against my leg for a second after she woke up from a nap on the sofa, testing out her new-found daytime relative freedom.  I followed her out to the living room and sat down on the floor with her — my pitch could wait — and we traded a snuggle.  Her ears pasted back against her head, her whole body in a wag, as if to say “thank you.”  She’s a total handful.  And I wouldn’t trade her for anything.

So today, as I plan future projects, and know that I won’t always get to spend every day here, moving according to our rhythms, and receiving snuggles whenever I (or she) pleases, I’m letting myself feel so incredibly grateful for the two months I’ve been able to spend in between full time projects… two months of play dates, and walks, and classes, and vet visits, and trips, and socialization efforts, that are helping our little street dog grow into a really delightful little young lady.  Maybe even, someday, a canine good citizen, if we keep up the hard work.

Soon, this blog is likely to drift back to conversations about balancing work and life, since there’s new work and some more changes on the horizon.  But for now, I’m just really grateful that the universe conspired to give me this time.  Today.  Where, for the first time, Gibson’s laying on the dog bed in my home office, whining occasionally because she’d rather be elsewhere, but then self-soothing.  I hope, someday, that she can be an office dog… and a moment like this one stokes that hope.  So if you’ll excuse me, there’s a little time left on the egg timer of my pawternity leave, and I’m going to go savor it.

Happy Rose and Book Day

rose and bookI keep journals, because my memory is terribly faulty, and I like to have a record of things as they happen, to audit my less than accurate recollections months or years later. Today’s one of those days when I’m thinking back about a time, and the details and facts are foggy. I know I wrote it down, but I don’t remember which year it happened, which makes flipping through my old journals a time-consuming affair. For the sake of getting the story right, I tried; but for the sake of telling the story today, I’m going to work off of my memory. Someday, I’ll come across those pages in my journal and compare the two, and see just how far off my non-fiction can be.

I’d been divorced a year when I started traveling for a living. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds: my destinations were one retail store footwear department after another; one corporate meeting room after another; punctuated by one weekend spend working an event somewhere I’d rather be playing after another. Nights were spent staying with friends, or in (mostly) budget hotels (with the occasional luxurious night or weekend, depending on the purpose of the travel, and other nights spent sleeping in my car, a rental car, or camping out … not because my employer set a budget for accommodations (they didn’t) but because I liked it that way. Waking in the fresh air, combing my hair and applying my mascara in my rearview mirror, brewing coffee with my camp stove, then tucking my bedding into the roof box on my Jetta and strolling into work, wherever in the (usually) West work was, that day.

How I saw the world, for the better part of a year and a half.
How I saw the world, for the better part of a year and a half.

The time I spent on the road had its ups and downs — it wasn’t all idyllic, and the challenges of the work were types I’d prefer to avoid, not the challenges I embrace and enjoy — but what that time did for me was teach me how to move through the world by myself. After a twelve and a half year relationship, which included a ten year marriage that ended in divorce, with me packing a laundry basket full of legal files, my climbing and camping gear, and a bag of clothes and my toothbrush, I had a lot to learn about moving through the world solo.

After a month traveling through Nepal (solo, or with only a sherpa guide for company, during much of my trekking time because I walked more slowly than the men I traveled with) I settled into the routine of a few days or weeks in the office and then a few days or weeks on the road (depending on the season). And I learned to navigate new-to-me cities alone, how to choose where to sleep and eat, how to observe the thoughts of friends and family as I traveled and reach out to people when they came to me in my own thoughts, to learn to build and preserve relationships other than with just one spouse, like I’d done for so many years. And somewhere along that road, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop chatting with an old man. I don’t recall what year, what city, or what book, but I do recall one detail of the conversation.

“In Catalonia, we celebrate Rose and Book Day,” he said. That’s the only part I can quote, from memory. I might have said something about my distaste for Valentines Day — perhaps it was on Valentines Day, who knows.  He might have given me a flower; I can’t recall.  I think I’d been reading a book, but I can’t remember for sure.  But I do remember the grey-haired, wrinkled, stooped old man wearing dark colors — black and grey.  And I remember writing down “Catalonia Rose and Book Day,” then googling the phrase later, reading the Wikipedia article and then adding April 23rd to my calendar, recurring annually.

How better to let someone know you love them, by giving them a rose and a book?  Happy Rose and Book Day, to you.  What are your plans, to celebrate this auspicious holiday?

Perhaps I’m just craving goodness, today.

Such a complicated unfolding… Having eavesdropped on the as-it-happens information (note, my intentional avoidance of the word “news”) since last night’s events started crossing my Twitter stream.  I unplugged to try to fall asleep and then saw a note online from a dear friend on Twitter.  She lives in Vermont and is getting ready to move to Boston, and she was awake late with her baby, her husband and the baby’s little big brother asleep, her eyes on the updates coming across her cell phone screen.  I sent her love, via text message, and warm thoughts, and that’s what we do, in this world where the people we care about may be in bed next to us; seven blocks down the street; or 3,006.4 driving miles across the country, and then turned off my phone and nestled in to sleep.

Today, there are meetings to have, a puppy to walk in the rain, Beach Boys songs to listen to (thanks, Dan), and errands run, an ear still tuned to the radio while I’m in the car.  A voice on the radio earlier today said something about how they’re hearing a high volume of complaints from listeners for saying anything “nice” about the suspects who were identified in the last day.  I guess I can see that, as a reaction people might have.  But there’s a part of me that finds a strange comfort in hearing about what a charming, friendly, “normal” person at least one of the suspects is (or was, it remains to be seen).  Somehow, those descriptions make me think that it’ll be a little harder to marginalize the suspect as wholly other (although there’s already plenty of that going on, as well).

The other night, after the initial mayhem began in Boston, Ryan and I were talking over dinner and the topic of how difficult it would be to talk about a day like that with kids would be.  I honestly don’t know what I’d say.  I do think I’d be strongly tempted to avoid speaking in terms of “bad guys,” even though that’s the obvious and most easy to spit out explanation: that there are some bad people in the world, who do bad things sometimes, and …… what next?  What would be the stock explanation, after that?  I don’t know.  It’s a gross simplification, and perhaps it’s true, but I’m not comfortable with the phrase “bad guys,” or “bad man,” or “bad people.”  Having the benefit of not actually being in the position, since there are no kids around to actually ask me about a day like that, I think I’d say something more along the lines of “sometimes bad things happen…” but then, what next?

Springtime in Seattle means fallen cherry blossoms floating on puddles.  This has nothing to do with today's post, but I craved a little beauty, as I typed.
Springtime in Seattle means fallen cherry blossoms floating on puddles. This has nothing to do with today’s post, but I craved a little beauty, as I typed.

How do you reassure a kid, when bad things happen?  I heard a blip on the radio about an upcoming program that would address that exact question, and the first tip in the teaser was turn off the television.  The expert said that to a little kid, watching scary things on the television news, they don’t get that it’s not happening over and over — that it happened once, and is being replayed.  I think that might not just apply to kids.  It might apply to some of us grown-ups, too, in a way, to keep the trauma we’ve witnessed thanks to various forms of media fresher, longer.  I’m still sheltering myself from visual media about the week’s events in Boston (and Texas) and have no plans to change that.  I can avoid televisions, with their endless replays and voiceovers.  I can read short text-based messages on Twitter and avoid photographs.  I can click through carefully to news sites and close browser windows if I suspect there may be an image I don’t want to have burned into my memory.  And to the people who say that it’s important to be informed — the way I see it, we won’t even have information until a preliminary investigation is complete.  Right now, we have stories.  Witness accounts.  Speculation.  Conjecture.  And by tuning out the outside messages and focusing on what’s more closely held, I can know that my peeps are accounted for, and my thoughts turn to sorrow for the lives lost — all of them — and then to how can live in a way that promotes peace and avoids harm.  To what I can do to love as wholly as possible and live as fully as possible, without regret.

Take care, all.  Have a love-filled weekend, please.  I plan to do the same.  How are you living well, today?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Some days, the puppy eats a chicken bone

– By Sara Lingafelter

Posted on Facebook yesterday morning with the caption "The Calm Before the Storm."
Posted on Facebook yesterday morning with the caption “The Calm Before the Storm.”

This morning, Ryan snuggled in with Gibson while I got up to take a quick shower.  After I got dressed and headed into the living room to put my shoes on, Gibson toddled out of the bedroom still warm from sleep, lit up when she saw me, and wiggled over to me then leaned her full weight against my leg, and tilted her head against me, in a full-on puppy-hug.  If you own a labrador retriever, you’re thinking, “So?  And then what?”  But, if you’ve raised a rescue dog, you may relate to the feeling of the first time your puppy sought you out for a snuggle, just because.  Not because you just arrived home and she’s happy to see you; not because you’re on a scary bus ride and she’s seeking your comfort; just because she wanted a snuggle, and you were there to give it.  It felt like a big deal.  And I obliged, and we had a nice, warm, good morning snuggle, just because.

And the day went on, and we’re working out our system that mixes walking and playing and working (for us) and sleeping (for her), and I’m thankful for our puppy school that is a shining beacon of hope and help on the hard days, since we have a one-on-one set up with an instructor that Gibson and I have enjoyed learning from, so that I can learn how to help Gibson relax and calm down, in stressful settings (and not particularly stressful settings, like when I have a conference call and she needs to chill out for an hour).  There are ups and downs.  She’s a puppy.  And right now, she’s an adolescent puppy.

She fixates on specific naughty behaviors:  (1) trying to eat the ridiculous Jody Bergsma fleece blanket known affectionately as “horsey blanket;” (2) stealing the orange pieces of temporary fencing meant to keep squirrels out, off the tops of my seedling starts; (3) tugging on tufts of the thick pile wool rug, in the living room; (4) plucking my beloved succulent plants out of the front yard and running around the yard, shaking them like they’re prey; and (5) sneaking into my nascent vegetable garden and wreaking havoc… those are the biggies, right now.  The “switch flips, devil puppy takes over” habits that test my patience and my dog mama training.  And then there’s the barking:  she’s found her voice, and she likes the way it sounds.  Loudly, usually.  Like for nearly a solid day, spent in the typically silent-but-for-the-crackle-of-the-fireplace family cabin we spent a night in with my parents last weekend:  and somehow, my parents still raved about what a good puppy she was, after we left.

People talk frequently about what a good puppy she is.  “She’s a puppy!” they say, excusing her digressions.  Maybe I’m negative scanning.  But lordy.  I feel like the people in our life are being incredibly generous with those exclamations, right now.

We had a good day, today.  And then Ryan came home, and we both greeted him happily, and then the three of us set about to spend the evening in the backyard, enjoying the non-rain after what feels like an entire week solid of downpour.  And before I could even don my garden gloves, and before Ryan even turned one shovel full of dirt, Gibson found a huge chicken drumstick bone — visibly dry, and splintery, like it had been gnawed clean by a particularly strong seagull who’d hit the Kentucky Fried Chicken jackpot then dropped the useless bone in a corner of our yard.  There’s a Formosan Dog Owner’s Group on Facebook that I subscribe to (and adore — those mamas and papas were helpful in our decision to adopt from Taiwan; and they just continue to be a source of support and inspiration as we get to know our furry kid better) … there’s a recurring photo theme:  Run like you stole it.  The photos are of Taiwanese rescues gleefully running at full bore.  And that’s what Gibson did with that chicken bone:  ran like she stole it.  Our training failed — she’d neither “drop it” nor “sit” nor “find it” for a substitute treat and why even bother trying “come” — and down the hatch the entire bone went, in little splintery pieces, like you hear about in the dog-and-chicken-bone horror stories.  Damage done, we scooted her into the house and fed her a sizable dinner along with some bread (gluten-free — it was all I had in the house) to help cushion the blow to her system.

“I wonder what it would be like to have a week without one of these emergency scenarios,” I said, thinking back on last week’s reverse sneezing sleepless night after Gibson either (1) had a sudden environmental allergy attack, or (2) her e-collar, which she was wearing because of her recurring skin allergies, was too tight and causes irritation to her throat.  And the week before that, when she trotted out of the bedroom all pleased with herself, and voluntarily spit an inch-across piece of jagged glass out in my hand; not knowing if she’d consumed any of it, or where it came from, she got the big-dinner-and-Ryan’s-pizza-crust treatment that time, too.

And then, we returned to the yard, inspected to ensure there were no more hazards, Gibson happily playing with her ball and the sticks in the yard, and Ryan reinforced the vegetable garden temporary fencing and I headed out to check on my kale, chard and beet seedlings, carefully and lovingly started two weeks ago.  I could see something was amiss before I even crouched down to inspect:  a small slug was munching away on the 3/4 of an inch high kale seedlings in one of the pots, and had already mowed down half of the pot’s contents.  He (or his brethren) had already finished off one entire other pot of seedlings — all that’s left are little half-inch stubs of stems, no leaves.

I mourned, and poured a line of DE around my remaining seedlings, and pulled out some fresh pots to start again.  I scooped out the soil, laid down beet and kale seeds, covered with a half inch of compost and then watered them.  I headed into the basement for a mere moment to put the seed packets away, and heard the easily identifiable sound of dog teeth on planting pots and hoped my ears deceived me and they didn’t.

The newly planted kale and beet pots, before Gibson turned them over.
The newly (temporarily) planted kale and beet pots, before Gibson turned them over.

So I swept the soil and seeds and compost off the sidewalk messily, and started again, settling for one pot of kale.  I’ll direct sow the beets later on, when the bed is ready.  Sigh.

“I know it would be like four-hundred-million times harder if we ever have kids,” I said, as I poured a glass of non-alcoholic wine and Ryan leaned against the kitchen sink.

“Only it would be different… it would be ‘she’s squirming, is that good?  Is that bad?  I just don’t know!’ ‘His face is red.  Is that bad?  Should we worry?’ not ‘where did you find that chicken bone,'” and Ryan pantomimed the anxious parental expression to a T, and I laughed, because he’s right.

And the evening wasn’t all bad, and we’re all still in relatively good spirits, all things considered… Ryan is playing his guitar and whistling and made me laugh by mimicking what Dave Matthews would sound like as a Muppet, and I’m typing away, and Gibson is snoozing happily, exhibiting no ill effects so far, next to me.

I wanted to write today down, because I wanted to remember this morning, when she walked out and loved on me; not just that today’s the day she ate a chicken bone and overturned my beet and kale pots.

Some days, the dog eats a chicken bone, and I accidentally break the E-Camper, and the car that we picked up from the shop after a four-digit repair bill still doesn’t have all of its brake lights, and the slugs win, and the puppy disagrees with my gardening decisions.  And I remind myself (because it’s what everyone says) that puppyhood doesn’t last forever and I ought to enjoy it; I remind myself of the delightful walk we had this afternoon, when Gibson beelined excitedly for a neighbor she’d met once, and then played like a doll with her seven year old pit-mix, and we cemented another neighbor friendship:  it’s one thing to learn the neighbor dog’s name, it’s a friendship when you learn the neighbor person‘s name, as well.  And I remind myself of the kisses that Ryan and I stole while we were in the yard, and of the snuggle that Gibson gave me unexpectedly this morning.  And there will be more seedlings — which, if they manage to survive the squirrels, the raccoons, the puppy, and the slugs, will grow up to be my little miracle plants.

I grow attached to each little seed that sprouts.  I hate thinning seedlings, and prefer transplanting, farming out little tiny starts of plants to girlfriends who are doing the same.  I worry about Gibson, her judgment so far less developed than her enthusiasm and sense of smell and curiosity.  And I guess tonight I’m reminding myself that it’s a hard world.  Not every seedling is going to make it, although I’m quite confident that Gibson will pull through tonight’s culinary experiment unscathed, and we’re all doing the best we can, and this is life, and it is, what it is, tonight.

I felt like a supermom, for a moment

Me, on my best days.

I took last week off as a stay-cation to spend some time with the new pup, and to catch up on some of the things I’d put on the backburner during my last contract, and it was a good week off, but it wasn’t really vacation.  Time off without Ryan isn’t exactly vacation — it’s more like time at home, to do chores, or feel like I should be doing chores, and to worry that maybe I’m not doing enough chores, since he’s getting up every day and going to work, and we need him to do that, and here I am — doing what?  Taking care of the puppy?  Making a home-cooked dinner some nights?  Spending so much time trying to get Gibson tired out that I didn’t get to the dishes, again?  Much less, my writing, or meditation, or yoga, or any of the other non-puppy things that help me maintain my sanity and well-being.

No, having a puppy is not motherhood.  But I’ve had a few fleeting moments in the last few weeks where I’ve felt like a fucking supermom.  One morning shortly after Gibson arrived, I woke up at 6:30 when my alarm went off, took the puppy for an hour-long walk, got home, sliced an apple and peanut butter for Ryan’s breakfast, packed them up for their workday together, kissed them both goodbye AND managed a shower, mascara and clothing application AND made my bus to work on time.

There are plenty of times that she’s the cutest thing on four legs:  many of them are when she’s sleeping, after exhausting multiple play companions in a row and then reluctantly coming inside for a nap.  Our puppy has got some energy.  And then there are the times where I’m on the verge of tears because I just don’t know what to do when she’s having an adolescent meltdown, and we’re enrolled in a school that’s based on positive reinforcement and “saying no to no” because dogs need to know what we want them to do.  But what do I do, when she’s repeatedly rearranging the row cover on my seed sprouting pots, with a look in her eye that says, “I KNOW this is naughty, and I’m doing it to get a rise out of you?”  Our school would say, “Be boring.  Don’t reinforce the unwanted behavior,” which totally makes sense in theory.  And in practice, I’m batting about 50%.

At our best, when she’s throwing her nightly temper tantrum because we’re not ready to go to bed yet and she is, and we don’t realize that tonight it’s a slightly different temper tantrum that means “I need to go outside,” and she squats to pee on the living room rug, I spot her early enough in her squat to alert Ryan, who scoops her up and outside in time for most of the damage to be done to the lawn, instead, while I mop up the rug.  We’re a well-oiled, calm machine, both acutely aware that this oops was our fault, not hers, and we give each other a squeeze of appreciation that we’re in this together, and we praise her for peeing on the lawn, where she’s supposed to, instead of scolding her for squatting on the living room rug.

After a few weeks of trying to juggle Gibson into our existence, including chaotic handoffs and hurried trips home from the office to check on her, and then last week of trying to juggle at-home time with her high energy, I find myself looking around at my friends with kids and thinking they’re absolute fucking superwomen every single day.  I find myself thinking back on some of my childhood times that lead to hard feelings with my own mother, and having a tremendous sense of empathy for what she was going through on those routine, hard, days.  I find myself in an unattractive combination of insecurity and imperfection.  Insecure because I feel like I’m not holding my own at this, even though the puppy’s getting raised and trained, my must-do work is getting done, and  I managed to do two loads of laundry yesterday and get a couple of proposals out the door.  Imperfect because good lord she’s a puppy, and she’ll grow into a very good dog someday, and I can’t even seem to keep my shit together… how on earth would I do it all with (theoretical) kids?  Imperfect because I haven’t been able to maintain my appearance of cool capability with my partner.  My “I got this” spiraled downward into “I don’t know how we’re going to do this” last night, and sure, vulnerability may be important to bonding, but we’ve done plenty of that already, and another emotional meltdown isn’t going to make me feel any better, when the problem is that I’m not tending my own needs because I’m trying to juggle what I think everyone else needs of me and my projected expectations are too many and too much — they come crashing down around me and I feel like a failure.

When really, if I could just smile at Ryan when the puppy’s being a spaz, take a break from the work screen to take her for a walk, appreciate the sunshine on my hair even though it’s March, and then come home and work patiently on teaching Gibson how to settle while I work so that the teaching yields the dividend of the doing down the road, then I would have done what I needed to for the day.  No failure.  No insecurity.  No imperfection.  Just the reality of what is.

Lordy.  Mom, I don’t know how you did it.  And moms:  I don’t know how you do it.  And “working” moms:  holy crap.  For real.  Mad props.

I’ve been making time to read, lately:  all different things.  Stories about storytelling, mindfulness, social media and content as well as books and articles about raising a puppy, articles about raising a hyperactive puppy, google search results for “how to survive puppy adolescence,” and the like.  Because that’s what I’m doing right now.  Storytelling, mindfulness, social media, and trying to learn how to raise a puppy.  And in all that reading, stories about women and career and family keep bubbling up in my attention.  A few weeks ago I savored a post by Sarah Tuttle-Singer titled We Need to Quit Telling Lies on Facebook which I saw (ironically) on Facebook, about the idealized version of motherhood we see through selective reporting on Facebook.  Yesterday I read an article by Emily Matchar asking the question of whether the Pioneer Woman (who I hadn’t heard of, but is apparently Kind Of A Big Deal) is selling a fake image of domestic bliss, based on another blog post written by the person who now holds the distinguished title of having my favorite Twitter handle ever, Melanie Haupt.  The conversation has been about how domestic bloggers paint an idealized image of happy domesticity and lifestyle blogging blurs the line between reality and fantasy.  And Penelope Trunk wrote a post titled I had to take a Xanax to read Time Magazine this week (and she also popped up in Haupt’s post) about Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer and the career women ideals presently depicted in the major media.  And whether you like her or not, Penelope Trunk’s blog posts stick with me, because they’re not just syrup with no nutritional value and no chewing that goes down easy.  I wind up really chewing on her blog posts, and appreciating that she’s not just painting an idealized image of happy domesticity.  Agree or disagree, she makes me think, and I appreciate that.

So here’s my as it is update, not the how-it-looks-on-Facebook version.  Ryan took Gibson to work with him today so that I could have a little alone time, and it’s been a treasure.  She and I got up early and went for a nice, patient walk, catching the last of the sunrise’s colors.  I packed them up for their day together, and then did the work I needed to this morning, uninterrupted.  I took a break to write this blog post, and then next, I’m going to take a real live bath … not the two minute shower I can squeeze in while Gibson’s sufficiently distracted with a Kong to not eat the record player or sofa.  I might even dry my hair.  And this afternoon, I’ll do some more work, and perhaps take a few minutes to be still, silent, and alone for the very first time since Gibson arrived on February 22nd.  And I’m grateful for the system we make together that I can have a day like today, and I’m reminded that I need to ask for help when I need it, and share the load, since one sign that I’ve chosen well in my partner is that he’ll bear burdens without complaint if it means that I’m happy and taking care of myself, and tending what I need to, if I just let him know I need the help.  Ideally, at some point before I’ve devolved into an insecure and imperfect mess, when my smile is still genuine and not forced, and my eyes are still sparkling with appreciation and affection, and not dull with self-imposed, unnecessary obligation and guilt.

How do you recharge?  How do you carve out time for yourself, amongst all of your many competing priorities?  How do you avoid the spiral downward, when it feels like there’s just no way to juggle it all?  I’d love to hear from you, in the comments.