Not so shabby- it’s still making me laugh.

Shabby. This is the word that my brother uses to describe conditions of the body that are less than happy. This was what he said to me in response when I got home from Mexico and told him that since our return I had been shitting water for three days straight at 20 minute intervals. “Shabby,” he responded over the phone. Yep, that summed it up.

It reminded me of another time he used that word to describe a not so happy body condition—my favorite time.

We were in Minnesota for a family reunion. My brother and one of my sisters had had a little too much to drink around the campfire the night before. I could tell this at the time because I was the sober driver and I was listening to their conversation of slurred words and “I love you guys!” when I told them my train was leaving in 2 minutes and if they wanted to get back to the hotel they best put down their drinks and get their drunk asses in the car.

But sometimes for the person drinking it isn’t until the next morning that they realize their error. Both of my siblings are old enough not to have this happen to them anymore. But you know- there had been a family death, people were emotional, the drinks had been flowing. There was love.

The next morning I was laying in the hotel bed next to my brother when I rolled over. The tiny movement of the mattress made my brother catapult out of bed and into the bathroom. When he came back into bed I had my eyes open looking at him. He carefully laid his sensitive body back into bed, turned his head toward me, looked me in the eye, and said one word before closing his eyes again: “Shabby.” This time he was talking about his own behavior and the predicament it had landed him in hunched over the toilet bowl the morning after. I laughed and simultaneously heard one of my sisters in the bed next to us groan in sympathy. You can guess which one it was.

A little while later I got in the car with my sister in tow. She preferred to stay reclined in the passenger seat with her sunglasses securely fastened to her head as I went into the Starbucks to get us both drinks. When I got back, I handed her her drink. She took one sip, opened up the car door, leaned out and vomited.

I shouldn’t laugh at this! But it was funny! It’s not like I’ve never done anything this stupid before—I have. But it didn’t dim my delight at being there to witness the double dose of folly played by both my sister and brother that day. That’s the wonderful thing about siblings—they’re a part of your life until you die, so these moments live on in your mind. You don’t forget them. And you can always look back and have yourself a good laugh just thinking about it. Thanks guys, you’re the best!


True confession from a seasoned but ignorant traveler

Hola from sunny Sayulita Mexico!

ImageI have the most fortunate in-law situation. Not only are my in-laws stellar individuals—they also live most of the year in Mexico. That means our yearly trip to see the grandparents lands us on the beach in Mexico every year. What luck! Quelle chance!

I wish I could say that in Spanish—but the embarrassing truth about me is that despite our yearly trips (this is our 3rd), I know very little Spanish.

The first time I came here I was mortified. Used to living in countries where I could speak the language I felt embarrassed at how American I seemed to myself. I’ve traveled a lot and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been (in Europe especially), mortified by the American tourist who speaks extra loudly to the shop owner in English demanding something she can’t understand. Now, I was one of those people. Well, I am not speaking loudly.

My first year in Mexico, my brother, who has traveled the world with me, was also along. He and I were walking away from a money exchange kiosk when I confessed my shame to him over not even knowing how to say the simplest thing, like, for example, “I’d like to exchange some money.” He looked at me and said, “I was wondering what was wrong with you—you didn’t even try.” I responded, “I know—the truth is I don’t have the slightest idea what the words might be.” Instead the French and Pulaar Futa (totally unhelpful!) phrases swam through my head, Spanish—nada.

P1030400In contrast, my brother, knowing we were meeting in Mexico, had spent the last several months reviewing his Spanish, practicing it and watching Spanish films. Maybe he couldn’t understand a rapid-fire response but at least he could say, “Do you have a bag?” Or, “How much is this? Or, “I’d like a beer, please.” I could count to 10. That year I thought, before I get here next year I’m going to brush up on my Spanish. Does it remind you of that promise you make to yourself every year just before Christmas? “Next year I’m going to do more shopping in advance.” Maybe…. probably not.

I could happily provide you with several excuses for my ignorance—but I won’t. Instead, I’ll just say “Gracias” for understanding. And confess with sincerity, I have become that person I once thought so distasteful. It seems to me a common experience over the course of a lifetime: Judge something, become it later. Finally, understand.

IMG_4879Now, all these years later I can say with honesty, I forgive you middle-aged American tourist standing in a village in France shouting in English at the stooped old woman shop owner. I know you, like me, were just doing the best that you could.

The grand celebratory finale (for now): One minute of joyous bday video.

I know, I might sound like I’m going on about this.  But I once remember reading in Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project how happiness is increased when you allow yourself to anticipate a moment or an event.  I feel the same is true for basking in the happy memories that resulted from an event.  So, I’m basking.  And without apology.  I hope this one minute of joy (in two segments) also brings you joy!

VIDEO ONE: 40 candles? I got this!  I’ve been practicing for years! (approx. 45 seconds)

VIDEO TWO: Party decorations still incite celebration one week out! (15 seconds)

Birthday Parrrrrtay!


“You know your birthday was last Tuesday!” my husband said to me jokingly as we were gearing up for my party.

“This is my birthday week,” I responded.  “Correction, this is my birthday month!”

“You don’t see me wandering around making months out of my birthdays.” he replied.

“That’s not my problem.” I said.

Later that night, when we got to my party my husband’s best friend said to us– “Usually, I make my birthdays a week.  When I turned 40, I made it a month!”

“Thank you!” I responded shooting my husband an elated and self-satisfied smile!

As previously mentioned, I turned 40 this month!  I’ve been celebrating (even if only with myself) all month.  I spent my birthday day at the spa (without my kids of course)! Later in the month I scheduled a massage (that my husband gifted me) and redeemed a gift certificate for a facial.  I’ve been enjoying a house full of flowers and great new poetry books– also gifts.  And I’ve been imagining a new duvet cover I’m going to make with my new fabric store gift certificate!  But the highlight, of course, was my birthday party.  It was the best I’ve had in 40 years!  Hosted by some fabulous friends and made special by them and a handful of others (not even to mention the guests!)– for me the party was epic.  In the name of continuing the enjoyment and pleasure it gave me, I’m reminiscing about it in this post.  It keeps the happiness going.  I hope it will satisfy you too.

Quick Party Plan Synopsis: Ever year on my birthday I ask friends to bring a poem they love to share with everyone.  This year guests were asked to bring either a poem to share, or if they wished, a story about me to share.  That was the beginning of the evening: Mingling, finger-food snacking, drinks (a friend of mine played bar tender), and then at some point the poetry share/roast started.  At 10pm the DJ started spinning.  The whole week leading up to my party I had the wail, that goes “PARRRRRTAYYY” in my head.  Think Beastie Boys– You’ve got to fight for your right to party.  Not by request, but apparently by divine design, the first song the DJ spun that night was indeed that song.  Needless to say, I was kicking up my boots on the dance floor ASAP!  Oh– the other fun highlight was a surprise “‘Stache station” made and erected by a friend of mine: Easel, mirror, furry fabric, scissors and double-sided tape.  Brilliant!  (See the last photo!)


Decorating! Done by host and friend extraordinaire Tami!


Balloons in front of a lamp. All her (Tami’s) idea, again. At party time the lights changed color… and so did the balloons!


Easily over 100 flowers filled the space! Ahhhh love!


Dancing time!


Okay… yum!


Gorgeous cake (gluten free) and T-A-S-T-Y! Made by another friend and wonderful baker Christal! Photo: Candice Bertram


After the dancing began– a friend set up a “Make your own ‘stache’” station. A mirror on an easel, double sided tape, scissors, and some furry cloth. Here is me enjoying the fruits with my cousin Glory.

Baby theme party: finger food celebration for our girl who turned one.

“I want a girl next,” I would always say to my husband before we got pregnant with our second child.  Knowing that it was the man who “makes” the decision I wanted to be clear about this from the get-go.

20140319-104012.jpgHe has a brother whom he is very close to, so he would always respond, “Nope.  Two boys.”

At this I would always say, “Be generous.  You already have your boy.”

We didn’t know the sex of either of our babies until they came out—but shortly after our daughter was born I remember looking at my husband with a beaming smile and saying, “In the end, your generous spirit ruled again.”

Thanks honey!

And thanks to me for growing her!

And thanks to her for coming!

And thanks to Grandma Cyndee for making a fabulous theme party dinner to celebrate our little Atalie turning one. Theme: finger food!  Highlights pictured below!







The birth of my daughter told in 4 absurd but totally true moments.


A year ago today, I still did not know if I was having a son or a daughter– but I was in the greatest work out (physically and mentally) of my life helping to get that little being into the world.

I remember turning to my friend Megan and saying, “I need some help here.  I need some positive thoughts to help me override the pain.”

She said, “Surrender. Open. Open. Open.”  That wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but of course it was the best advice.  I put it to use right away during every agonizing contraction—and before long our little heart was moving out into the world.

There were so many absurd moments during the birth of my daughter.  The one that still makes me almost cry with laughter (in hindsight of course) was when, in full active labor I found myself sitting in a wheel chair on the curb waiting while my husband gathered our belongings (including a full blown birth ball) to bring into the hospital.  It was raining and cold.  In an effort to shield out the world, keep warm and dry I had made my husband throw every blanket possible on me (including over my head) before he attended to our belongings.  I was vomiting into a five gallon bucket that had the words, “I love you!  And you can do this!” penned on the inside of it by my husband.  I can still remember peering through my knitted blankets, down throw, and haze of misery at the young male valet parking attendants.  They were eyeing me like I was a rare and interesting bird specimen, something that could possibly add a little flavor to an otherwise boring morning, but one that should definitely be watched from a distance.

Although we planned on having a home birth with both of our children I was again, like with my son, at the hospital.  This time I was at the University of Washington hospital and my “Dr.” was really a Dr. in training, i.e. “Fake Dr.”  Fortunately for me, this was my second baby so I knew the ropes so to speak.  The poor woman — “Fakie” as I will henceforth refer to her—every time she would tell me something like, “I need to check your dilation,” I would say, “Do I have a choice about this?”  Because I had a mid-wife I knew it was unnecessary to be checked so frequently (and it’s also very painful when you are un-medicated like I was).  I knew that if I were giving birth at home my mid-wife would hardly be checking my prognosis at all—following all the other signs that were clearly being exhibited she would note—the birth was progressing perfectly.

While I was laboring in the bathtub Fakie came in with her hand held ultra-sound equipment to check the position of the baby.  Sadly since the woman was still learning she pushed the equipment into me so hard that my agony tripled—if that is even possible!  But the absurd moment came when she practically shouted, and with thinly veiled panic, “The baby is breach!”  I had my eyes closed at the time—attempting to cope with the pain and the process—but I remember feeling not the slightest bit of alarm at her statement.  My first thought was, “Well, that’s not what I was expecting.”  My second thought was, “Is that true?”  My third thought was, “No.  It’s not true.  The baby is not breach.”  While they panicked and she called for a back-up opinion I labored on as calmly as ever.  I was already in the zone.  If you’ve ever been in natural labor—you know the one.  That place where even though you are experiencing more pain than your mind can even conceive of—you have accepted it.  You have surrendered to it until it has become you—in the best possible way.  You know, that agony and all, you are a player in a process much bigger than yourself, and the only way out of it is through it.

I took one moment to open my eyes and look at my mid-wife, who was also in the room with me, but due to the change in locations, she was now acting as a doula, instead of the leading professional.  My eyes pierced into hers with clarity.  She also sat there as calm as ever watching the hubbub around her almost distantly.  She also knew, as I knew she would, that the baby was not breach.  She had been with me at home before I went to the hospital and unlike the physicians she was able to tell these details

I opened them briefly when the “real Dr.”, who had a gentle touch with the ultra-sound equipment, did a double check and realized that no, the baby was not breach.  It was indeed the butt appearing on their screen, but only because the baby was much farther down than they had anticipated.with her hands alone.  After that, I shut my eyes again.

The next most intense absurd moment came for me when Fakie told me, “Don’t push!”

I should mention I was already pushing.

If you’ve ever been in un-medicated labor (I know because I’ve been in both) you know that when your body decides it’s time to push—you do not have a choice.  You are no longer in control of that thing you’ve been walking around in for years.  You are not pushing.  Your body is now calling ALL shots.  You are basically just a set of beady, wide-open eyes witness to the writhing, super natural, almost sci-fi like motions happening in your skin.  Every muscle is contracting of its own accord to help eight pounds of another person’s being descend through the hole of your vagina.  To say you are not in command is a gross understatement.  Even the sounds coming out of my mouth were like nothing I’ve ever heard, nor am I likely to hear again.

Just after making her profoundly baffling statement, Fakie left the room.  I felt like someone had just said to me, “Now, get in your rocket and fly to the moon!  Quick!”  I was left sputtering, “I, I, I don’t have a rocket!”  I turned to my mid-wife with questioning mystified eyes.  “What did she mean by that statement?” my eyes asked.

Calmly and powerfully my mid-wife responded, “Just trust your body.”  She knew what thousands of births had taught her—that even if it looks like the cervix isn’t open all the way, if the water has already broken, the force of gravity combined with the weight of the baby will move together as one to speed things up.  And that the woman’s body is the best judge of whether or not she should stop pushing.

The last lovely instant of absurdity is probably one that every woman giving birth in a hospital in this country experiences.  At the tail end of your endeavor, what I call the “peanut gallery” arrives.  That means anywhere from 5-12 strangers who you’ve never seen before enter the room to watch you writhe in your alien state and stare directly at your hoonie.  Then a head appears there.  Need I say more?


Looking back on it all, I actually love the whole experience I had giving birth to my daughter.  The crazy moments lend it a flavor of funniness that I so appreciate now.  I might not have totally experienced it as such when I had 8lbs of baby bearing down on my cervix, but afterward it did seem like a funny joke.  And I got my girl, which of course was the best gift of all.

Thank god I made it!


Once, in this last year, I sent this ecard to my husband.

“The first year of your second child’s life is the hardest of yours.” Numerous times in the last year random people have said this exact thing to me. For me to disagree would be to lie.   The only second runner up was the first year I spent in Africa—living in a mud hut in the middle of the scalding heat of nowhere, speaking a language I had never even heard of prior, going to the bathroom in a hole in the sand (without toilet paper), sweating more than I thought possible, and eating with my hands.  And that’s a second by a long shot.  Then, I thought I had left earth and moved to mars.  This last year on numerous occasions I can honestly say I thought I had landed in hell.  With a white knuckled figurative grip, I held on to the other thing that people said to me often which was, “It does get easier.”

My daughter is a few days short of one-year-old now and I’m elated to be on the home stretch.  Already I can feel the change.  It’s been creeping on slowly throughout the months and days as our family gets used to the life of four, both wee ones develop new skills, and the parents find ways to get sleep.  I can’t say that there are never any hard moments—no parent would honestly ever make that claim— however I can say that they are fewer and farther between.  And for that I am grateful.  A huge sigh of relief is mine:  my daughter is about to be one!  Thank god I made it! ;)  So glad we’re all here.

Today I turn 40! What does that mean?….


Dear world,

Today I turn 40.  First and foremost I want to thank my mom.  Because especially now that I’ve had two children of my own I know that on this day 40 years ago she was in the most excruciating of pain imaginable.  I also know now that that was the first of many sacrifices she made for me.  Though, I’m sure I’ll never know all of them—on this day I want to thank you Mom for making them.  I’ve made it 40 years now.  And even if I do say so myself, I think I turned out alright.

Forty seems like a big deal to me.  I keep thinking, “There’s no going back now.”  It’s ironic I know because when is there ever any going back?  Still, it seems momentous.  I’m either halfway, or almost halfway there—wherever there is.

It’s made me ponder the decades as I’ve lived them so far.

In my teens I was still just learning about the world.  But I remember I had this sense that everything had always been a certain way, and that things would always be that way.  I had no notion then of how wars, and stock markets, and the Internet could change and create whole vibes that would define eras.  I had no idea that the whole of humanity was evolving together, changing their thinking in subtle ways as they went along so that a few decades might go by before they realized that, for example, they used to use payphones and now they’re pretty much obsolete.  Then, I was just discovering my world.  I still remember all those experiences—first loves, that needful urge to fit in, that awkwardness of trying to, and how my parents, especially my mom defined the rules of my world.  Even then I was aware, perhaps painfully so, of how that last piece wouldn’t be the case forever, but it didn’t make living by her rules any easier.  Can you say grounded?  Oh I could, sometimes for more than a month at a time.

In my twenties I woke up to the fact that I could make a difference.  Along with that came the notion that everyone should be making a difference too—  of course in accordance with my values.  I worked for the environment.  I recycled.  I refused paper bags from the grocery store. I thought, like many twenty-something-year-olds, it was my job to convince other people of the importance of certain things—namely of living in the ideal fashion of my design.  I lectured my parents on ways to live more greenly.  I argued playfully with my grandfather in the grocery store about whether he really needed those Styrofoam cups. I lived in a city (Portland, OR) that eventually outlawed Styrofoam (at least in restaurants).  I also traveled—an unbelievably glorious amount.  I visited four continents—and for extended times, a year, two sometimes.  Many of the experiences that would go on to define my thirties started in the last year of my twenties.  One of those was a complete and utter disengagement from the news, as in television and newspaper reporting.  I was an environmentalist at the time and witnessed the sick and depressing effect that listening to the news had on everyone around me—and simply put I decided to stop.  Also, I began to yearn for something more.  I turned toward god— for me it was in the form of yoga and meditation.

In my thirties, I experienced god.  I lived in an ashram where I chanted and meditated every day.  And I began to write.  I was hired to write.  During this decade I learned that it was more important to discover (and do) what was right for me then to care about the choices that other people were making.  I made allowances for people.  I started to understand that choices weren’t so absolute.  That everybody had their own reasons—and valid ones—for choosing their paths, and that even I would change as I went along.  I let them make their own decisions—and I stopped caring what those were or how they might be different from mine.  I started taking paper bags at the grocery store—and I didn’t feel a sting of guilt about it.  Instead of trying to change other people I began thinking primarily about the ways in which I wanted to change myself.  I devoured and collected tools that would help me turn again and again toward happiness whenever I fell off that path.  I moved across the country and I discovered my home—first in the sense of a place (the island where I live) and then in the sense of the person—the man who later became my husband.  I still remember the sensation I experienced one of the first times he put his arms around me, and I can still only describe it as home and heaven.  And of course, again at the tail end of this decade I did something that will likely have profound influence on the next 10 years as well—I had kids.

In my forties, well that’s yet to be discovered.  But for me I feel that it holds a sense of anchoring and of spreading out, a sense of becoming better at what I already do: as a writer, an artist, a mother, a wife, a lover of this world, a traveler, a friend, a foe (just kidding), and perhaps aspects of myself that I’ve yet to discover.  I know that it encompasses a sense of community, of family, and heart.  But most of all I feel it holds a sense of flourishing—a heightening of and a solidifying of dreams that have always been mine—but whose time has finally come.

I look forward to this decade with gusto and warmth and I welcome with open arms all the goodness it will undoubtedly bring.



 Did you have a sense of significant change when you turned 40?  Or on any other birthday?  If so, I’d love to hear what that meant for you. 


ART-en up your coffee mug in just a few minutes.

This plus that.

20140218-122838.jpg (Then bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.)

Equals fun anniversary gift and personalized coffee mug.  (Child not included.)

Quote: “Some people are so much sunshine to the square inch.” Walt Whitman.

Then my own: “You are my favorite piece of bright sky.”20140218-122124.jpgThank you Pinterest!

Apparently the mug will not be dishwasher safe (the writing will come off)– but should sustain hand washing.  For a more durable solution use enamel markers.

Are you wearing that??

Are you really wearing that???!

Are you really wearing that???!

True conversation between my husband and I:

Me: “I hate to wear this nightgown- my dad told me it looked terrible on me.”

Hub: “Rude.”

Me: “I like that about my family.  They’re straight talkers.  If your family can’t tell you, then who can?”

Hub: “Your husband.”

Me:” I like that about you too.  It’s one of the many reasons I married you.”

I can always count on my husband’s honest opinion.  Once when I was pregnant I was trying on this dress someone gave me.  I wasn’t sure it was so great, so I did what I usually do when I’m on the fence: ask for my husband’s opinion.

He took one look at me and said, “We could go camping in there!”

I doubled over laughing and took the dress off ASAP!

P.S. I’ve also given away the nightgown since.