Friday, April 11, 2014

Look out, trees, here we come

We're going skiing for Spring Break 2014.  Alex and I both grew up on skis yet have never taken our kids to the slopes.  The time has definitely come to place Lucien and Coco on slippery boards and push them down a hill. 

Both kids are enrolled in full-day ski school.  It may be difficult for me to separate from them, entrust them to someone else's care while learning a potentially dangerous sport.  It feels a bit like throwing them into the deep end of the pool but I guess that's usually the most surefire way to learn to swim.  Or maybe that's the most surefire way to drown?  I'm not sure of my own message there.

I hope their first ski school experience is nothing like mine.  Below is an essay I wrote in my memoir writing class last year about that very subject.  The exercise was to write about an experience you had as a child, in 300 words or less, in which a valuable lesson was learned.

Here's hoping this isn't foreshadowing. 

Tree Killer

In my family, there was one truth: skiing was life.  As a young child, I was regularly handed to relatives as my family sped off with skis strapped to the car and maniacal looks on their faces.  They would sometimes yell, "See ya Monday!" as the car peeled away but often forgot, perhaps distracted by the fluorescent hues of their ski jackets.

At the age of six, I was finally old enough to join them. I was put in ski school with a gentle instructor named Ruth.  I aced the chairlift dismount when most kids faceplanted in the snowbank.  It seemed to confirm I’d arrived at my destiny. 

As Ruth led us down the bunny slope, a snails pace trail of kids in ugly snowplow formation, I knew she was holding me back.  I was a Jones and Joneses skied like the wind.  But as I broke from the pack and headed down the hill alone, I soon realized I was not a gazelle like Mom nor a perfectly tucked racer like Dad;  I was more a hurtling projectile headed straight for a tree.  I don’t remember the impact but do remember being pulled in Ski Patrol’s rescue toboggan. 

My parents saw a sign at the top of the chairlift:  “Dave and Judy Jones, please contact Ski Patrol.” They decided it wasn't addressed to them because they have very common names and honestly, what kind of trouble could I have gotten into so quickly?  They finally called when upon each successive trip up the chairlift, the message grew by another exclamation point.  Then they learned another family truth: it was a spiral fracture of the tibia. 

Good DNA does not replace effort.  And as we learned the next year, when we saw the offending tree had been removed from the bunny slope, the hubris of a child can sometimes lead to the killing of trees.

Wish us luck, and see you on the flipside.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Happy Birthday to me

Spring is arriving in Seattle and we're excited to spend some time on our new back deck. When we first moved into the house, the back deck was a rickety little thing made of plywood that moved back and forth and up and down when you walked on it. 

Exciting but not inviting

We tore down Danger Deck and started over.  Now we're looking more like this --

 it's not finished but at least we're not scared of it

Yesterday was a gorgeous day and an exciting one because our new outdoor dining set was to be delivered.  It arrived while I was running the kids to school.  I was less enthusiastic about the delivery when I returned home and found this mess on the front porch --

It was not a box. It was a very loose interpretation of a box.

The carnage was so bad, the furniture had begun unpacking itself in a desperate attempt to flee the structural collapse of its home.  I pulled the pieces out slowly, assuming damage.  And of course they were damaged.  I think it's fairly obvious this deliveryman hates his job.

So we still don't have an outdoor dining set, just an email sent to customer service filled with impotent rage and a ton of cardboard clogging the entryway.  The good news is the kids love playing on it and we've begun referring to it affectionately as "Mount Mangle."

So I turned 39 over the weekend.  It was one of my better birthdays because it began in total silence.  Alex woke up long before me and took the kids out all morning.  I slept in, drank coffee in my bathrobe and read my Facebook birthday greetings.  Sometimes Alex gets it just right.

Things got exciting later that day when we all clustered around Bobo the bearded dragon's tank and stared at him with concern.  Lucien was convinced Bobo was dying and it didn't seem an overreaction -- Bobo hadn't moved in four days, hadn't eaten in two, hadn't pooed in over six weeks.  It was an alarming combo and drove me to the internet where I deduced Bobo was suffering from "impaction."  In blunt terms, Bobo the bearded dragon was hella constipated.

Impaction can kill a bearded dragon.  Lucien was growing frantic, there wasn't a moment to lose. "Bobo, you ain't dying on my birthday," I said, and strapped on the latex gloves. 

The internet told me the best home remedy for bearded dragon impaction was a warm bath with accompanying abdominal massage. Bobo flattened his body in the bath and closed his eyes.  I wrapped my hands around his scaly little body and massaged what I assumed to be his abdomen. I guess I did something right because half an hour later BLAMMO, Bobo sh*t all over the place.

 Thanks, lady, and happy birthday
and you might want to bleach the bathtub

A group of friends met us later for my birthday dinner.  Look, I got a plant!

The strange thing about dinner was our server kept bringing us more bread even though we hadn't finished our other bread.  We finally had to shake him by his slight shoulders, smack him around a little -- "No more bread, man, you've gone mad!"

 it's too much bread
must give more bread

After our dinner we walked to Neumos where Dum Dum Girls were playing.  As I've mentioned, I have an intense love for live music.  It feeds my soul.  My friends do not all share this fervent love but they still agreed (enthusiastically, even!) to stay up way past their bedtimes and go with me to see a band they'd never heard of.  I love them for that.


Dum Dum Girls played a good show.  The men enjoyed it, especially, because the lead singer wore a sheer shirt with nothing but pasties for coverage.  She can wear whatever she wants, she's a badass in a girl band, but it may have been too distracting.  Afterward Alex asked, "Wait...did they play music?"

Alex stepped outside for a cigar midway through the show.  He struck up a conversation with a guy in the band that played earlier.  The band guy told Alex his shoes were rad and asked where he got them.  Al is still glowing from that one and occasionally puffs out his chest, pounds it, and yells, "I STILL GOT IT I'M STILL COOL" at various times throughout the day.   

It was a late night but worth it
because we got to hang out with this Macklemore-ish guy wearing a white fur coat

Anne, Angelo, Anna, Kristin, Alex, Kate, Eden, Rhonda, Matt, Raba and Zee -- thanks to you, I turned 39 just right, and don't wish to be in any other place or at any other age.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Family Fun Day

Family fun days are not always full of family fun.  They are sometimes a kind of well-meaning torture. No sooner do you step out your front door than the whining starts -- someone needs the bathroom, someone's thirsty, someone accidentally put on shoes they outgrew two years ago.

The worst is when you realize you forgot your directions and/or tickets to some event on your desk.  The second worst is when you realize after you've hit cruising speed on the highway you forgot to put your youngest in the car and she is still standing in the driveway.

(never done that but came damn close)

I've taken to a lot of teeth grinding when we all go out for family fun days.  It's an overwhelming challenge to keep everyone in the same place and get everyone happy at the same time.  More than once I've become a manic-eyed Clark Griswold -- "This is a QUEST, a QUEST for FUN" -- as I've shuttled my family members from one area of the city to another.

Sometimes there are parks involved

 Sometimes carousels

Sometimes the overcrowded treehouse playground at REI, where you can hunker down at the adjacent World Wraps and dull your family fun anxiety with a Black-n-Blue smoothie. 

All that to say -- I'm pleased to announce we have finally found a winner for family fun day.  It's a family fun activity that is actually fun.  It's the only thing we've ever tried that has won enthusiastic, joyful approval from all members.

Boing boing boing

Boing boing boing

Trampolines.  Ridiculous, yes, but magical.  When adults jump on trampolines, it instantly erases years from their person.  They get giddy, and have way more fun than their kids, and it's about time.

If you're not into jumping around aimlessly and prefer a little more structure to your trampoline experience, perhaps you would enjoy trampoline dodgeball.  It's like reliving the horror of junior high dodgeball except you're bouncing all over the place and can't control your body and look like a total spaz -- actually yeah, just like junior high dodgeball. 

The above game was dads vs. kids.  The dads smoked 'em because kids are small and can't throw very well.  A kid would give a wildly inaccurate throw, it would land ten feet from its intended target and the dad would respond by pointing and laughing at them for a minute before BOOM, beaming one right back at their face.  It may seem heartless but everyone knows there's no compassion in dodgeball.

Lucien dragged Coco onto the court with him for the savagely fought "big kids" game.  Coco's no dummy.  She knew what to do --

Here's hoping trampolines never lose their novelty so I don't have to go to the aquarium or the science center or, god forbid, the library ever again.

I've recently started going to a co-working site to work on my Paris book.  It's impossible for me to write a book at home.  The lure of the laundry, or the home repair projects, or the snack cabinet is too great.  There were many times I sat down to write but then jumped back up to lip-synch some rad tunes into a large spoon.  I am prone to procrastination when I'm afraid of something so I guess writing that book scares me very much.

I needed some accountability in the form of other bodies.  Not that those bodies would stand over me and hit me with sticks if I didn't write, but more they would notice if I sat there and stared at my laptop screen doing nothing.  Then they would probably think, "She's the dumbest writer ever because she never writes anything" and I don't want people to think I'm a dumb writer so I would write a ton out of fear of judgment.

The co-working movement, if you haven't heard, is about having a place to go for people who work from home.  It's a way to combat the loneliness of working alone and to rid oneself of the distractions of home.  Instead of puttering around getting nothing done at home, participants in the co-working community gather in a place, each focused on their own pursuit, and get nothing done together.

I was nervous walking in my first day not knowing anyone.  I may or may not have given myself a few pacing pep talks before getting into the car.  It's hard to put oneself out there, walk alone into what you assume is a well established community, and beg them to love and accept you. 

I reassured myself that if I walked in the front door and realized it wasn't my scene, I could backtrack silently, cover my eyes and walk slowly backwards putting my feet in exactly the same places they had been when I walked in, and nobody would ever know.  Or perhaps they would all be sitting there and clearly see me doing that and think I was a lunatic but who cares, I'd be gone. 

There was no need for nerves.  The co-workers at my site are pathologically friendly.  Now that I'm settling in nicely, being in a co-working space is much like having regular co-workers.  We all work silently, heads down, the only sound in the room the "tap tap" of laptop keys until suddenly someone stifles a giggle.  Moments later the rest of us receive an email because a fellow co-worker has found something delightful on the internet they need to share right away.  That's how I came to have "Vladimir Putin Gay Dress-Up" in my inbox. 

The stream of people I've met at co-working are super Seattleish -- artists and software people and web designers and writers and not-for-profit idealists.   One guy has a science-themed radio show.  One guy works for the Beacon Hill Food Forest  (The Beacon Hill food forest is an urban public food forest -- if you want an apple, just take an apple!)  He also partakes in drum circles, which I imagine is obligatory for young Seattle men who work in public food forests.

One woman is an artist and has painted kids room murals depicting children in pink capes flying over Mount Rainier and the Space Needle.  One woman is a writer and community organizer and was one of the driving forces behind the "Hopscotch CD" event we took part in last summer.  Very few of these people have children so I'm a bit of of a foreign specimen.  When I pack up and leave shortly after noon because I have to get Coco at preschool, I am met with puzzled looks.  Most of them have just recently rolled out of bed, you see.  They nod thoughtfully when I explain about the kidfolk and now call me "The A.M. shift."

Lucien's karate class discussed their word of the month, "kindness," this week.  The teacher asked, "How do you show kindness to others?" and one little boy raised his hand and said, "I guess if somebody had hypothermia, I would probably help them, I guess."

Karate: shaping the leaders of tomorrow!

Boing boing boing,

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pack of Wolves

I took a break from blogging last week to deal with an emergency situation; Coco's preschool made the out-of-the-blue decision to shutter its doors next year.  This may not seem like an "emergency" in your typical "someone's bleeding over here" sense but when you consider next year is her CRUCIAL PRE-K YEAR and most Pre-K programs are already full for Fall, we were Code Red.

The late decision left our preschool's families scrambling to find a spot for their kid's CRUCIAL PRE-K YEAR.  If parents don't handle the CRUCIAL PRE-K YEAR properly, it can be disastrous to their child's future.  There is an adult on a therapist's couch right now processing an overwhelming list of troubles.  The therapist is going to ask any minute, "Where did you go for Pre-K?" and if the patient responds, "I didn't really do a Pre-K program, just a play-based preschool for a couple years," the therapist will throw down his/her pen and say, "Well then there's not much I can do for you."

Crucial stuff, these schooling decisions made for four-year-olds.  I'm pretty sure at the age of four I was eating paste on my parents' asbestos-laden linoleum floor but no matter, times have changed, Pre-K now determines everything. 

We all got on phones immediately to beg for spaces in programs across the city.  Most schools no longer had spots but those that did were quite specific as to what they were looking for because the gender/age ratio in a Pre-K classroom is apparently of utmost importance.  "We're looking for an older girl," or "we have a spot for a younger boy" or "we're looking for a hermaphrodite, with a summer birthday, about three feet tall, who can yodel."

All our preschool's parents descended upon the same schools for visits and suddenly friends were rivals jockeying for position, eyeing each other suspiciously, and overhearing other parents brag to admissions their child was born in Paris (I admit nothing).

Even if you don't buy into the idea our kids' lives are made or broken at the age of four, it's difficult not to get swept up in the mania of emergency Pre-K admissions.  It feels like running with a pack of wolves.  It's pressure-filled and exciting and kind of scary and you're looking over your shoulder thinking, "Oh my gosh, look at me, I'm in the middle of this pack of wolves!"

If you fall behind, you'll get trampled but even worse, your child will end up doing their CRUCIAL PRE-K YEAR at a now-defunct gas station led by a suspected felon named Bruise. 

I had my sights set on one school in particular for Coco.  On the day of our visit, the kids were busy painting scenery for the annual play to be performed later that evening. One tiny girl came up to me and told me she was a cat in the play and would I like to hear her lines?  I said "yes" and was utterly delighted when she followed me around meowing for the next five minutes.

Coco went for a trial run the next day to determine if she was a good fit for the school.  It was the audition of her four-year-old life.  As I sent her into the classroom, I smoothed her hair.  What?  Since when was Coco's hair ever smoothed and, if it wasn't, when have I ever cared?  Running with the wolves did funny things to me. I gently shoved her into the room and sent up a silent prayer she didn't choose that day to start smearing feces on walls. 

She didn't.  She was cheerful easygoing Coco and was offered the "older girl" spot the next day.  We're now secure in our knowledge we've made her life awesome forever, and our work here is done.

Coco is firmly in a horse phase so Alex took her to see Cavalia, the fancy Cirque du Soleil-meets-horse mashup of a show, over the weekend.  I helped him by writing turn-by-turn directions to the Cavalia tent in Redmond and attaching them to the dashboard of the car.  He proved himself Alex by ignoring those directions completely and getting lost somewhere in Bellevue. 

This is not your typical guy-won't-ask-for-directions tale.  It's more serious than that.  Alex doesn't consider directions because he firmly believes if he just gets into the car, the car will take him where he wants to go.  Directions are not a sign of weakness to him, they just don't matter.

Things tend to work out for Al and his aimless meandering "following his gut" driving because he has a detail-loving directions person (me) at home to talk him through.  If he didn't have me, I'm not sure what would become of Alex every time he got into the car.  He'd end up in Idaho when he was aiming for Costco, whistling and unconcerned it was taking longer than expected.

The Loosh recently told me he doesn't think he's good at singing but he's REALLY good at humming, so maybe I could find a humming competition in which to register him?  He's serious about it, lays in his bed at night and practices the same bars over and over again to get the hum pitch just right.  That kid is coming dangerously close to pulverizing my heart.

Meow meow meow meow,

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I spent this past weekend with some ladies in a rental house on Whidbey Island to celebrate Seattle Mom's 40th birthday.  When one of our own hits a milestone, we drop kick parental responsibility to our husbands and hit the road.

Our rental house was spacious but we still had to share beds.  Seattle Mom #2 was lucky enough to share a bed with me.  I did not spoon her as threatened but I did throw a ton of covers on her in the middle of the night when I kicked them off because holy hell, our room was an inferno cursed with a defective heating unit.

There are many ways to pass the time when you're spending a weekend with girlfriends on an island -- surprisingly far more than just sitting on the couch covered in blankets and drinking wine, though we put a fair amount of time into that endeavor as well.

For example, we enjoyed the nearby public beach --

all 20 feet of it

And we tested our fear of heights on a tall wobbly bridge --

We also tried to light the flameless candles in our rental house with a lighter, only realizing there was an "ON" switch on the bottom after we scorched the insides and Seattle Mom swore "I'm gonna light this goddamn candle if it kills me."  It didn't go that far, thankfully.

There's something about taking photos on Pacific Northwest beaches that makes every group shot look like the band just got back together -- 

The band got back together

The band disbanded briefly for a solo project

 The band got back together

Now the band's being dicks to each other and trying to knock each other off logs

probably drugs

Our first evening was spent drinking wine on the deck.  Seattle Mom told a story of her Girl Scout camping days and how she used to get so scared she would call out for her camp counselor -- inexplicably named "Buttons" -- in the middle of the night.  For the rest of our Whidbey Island weekend, a solo cry of "BUTTONS!  BUTTONS!!" could be heard regularly.  The rest of us would stop whatever we were doing and mimic the call in response.  We were like a pack of wolves with a new inside joke.

I was responsible for bringing Saturday morning brunch.  I made a beautiful spinach and sausage strata the day before and brought the cooler out of my scary basement for the strata's transportation to the island.  The cooler made it into the car but, once we were nicely settled in on the island, I realized the strata had not.

I didn't realize the strata was missing until late that first night, after much wine had been consumed and everyone was headed for bed.  For a moment I went insane with confusion.  I spun around in the kitchen, insisted I PACKED THE STRATA and enlisted help finding it and getting it into the fridge right away because eggs.  

That's how Seattle Mom came to be on her hands and knees under the sink reporting, "It isn't under here" and Seattle Mom #2 confirmed the strata wasn't in the dishwasher while Seattle Mom #3 checked the bathrooms.  Seattle Mom #4 bundled up and went outside to dig though the car, something she truly enjoyed because of all the rain.

They wanted to believe I had brought the strata and not just an empty cooler to Whidbey Island but eventually they gave up and went to bed, leaving me alone in the kitchen to mutter to myself and check the garbage can just one more time. 

I finally texted Alex and asked if there was a strata in the refrigerator at home.  He responded, "Yes!  Thank you so much!"  Alex had discovered the strata and thought he had the most thoughtful wife in the history of wives.  I had to fess up that it wasn't meant for him because I didn't want to set unattainable standards for myself in the future.

Observe this true Pacific Northwestern specimen.  
When she wants to read a book outside, she reads a book outside.

One thing I did remember to bring to Whidbey Island -- and perhaps the reason I forgot breakfast because this was the true the star of the show -- was the penis cake.  I'm not sure I can show pictures of the penis cake here because it was a very realistic penis cake.  Perhaps if I pixelate -- 

 that'll do

I ordered the penis cake earlier in the week from The Erotic Bakery in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle.  If you're looking for someone to sculpt realistic looking body parts out of fondant, they're your people.

After perusing the website I decided to go with the "Erect Penis with Bow" model because nothing says "Happy 40th, dear friend" like a festooned member.  The guy who took the order over the phone asked me what color I wanted the skin of the penis, the color of the hair, color of the bow, whether or not I wanted a piercing through the penis or something unfortunately called "c*m icing" squirted all over the top. 

As we discussed the merits of "c*m icing" and debated whether or not it would render the entire cake unappetizing, I told him he had a very strange job.  He agreed and then oh, how we laughed.

(I decided against the icing.  It seemed one step too too far.)

The penis cake made it to Whidbey in one piece.  We made the mistake of hiding it in the cupboard instead of immediately in the refrigerator so the penis got too warm and began bending to the right.  I called out, panicked, over my shoulder, "You guys, it's listing, it's listing!" as the other ladies distracted Seattle Mom outside so we could move it into the fridge.  That thing was very high maintenance and difficult to manage.

It was worth it for the reveal, though.  She was like, "Ohhhh... pretty cake......OH MY GOD."

 the cake is happy to see you, too, Seattle Mom

Our dear husbands held down the forts back at home so we could lead our lives of debauchery.  The men kept the kids alive and got them to the numerous birthday parties scheduled for the weekend. I'm sure they could have accomplished this without the lengthy lists of instructions and drawn diagrams we left them, but why take that chance?

It's a magical strata and found it's way through the wormhole from Whidbey Island to my kitchen counter.
It's the only explanation.

Thank you, husbands.
And happy birthday, Seattle Mom.  You rock our world.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Yo from the Hoh

To the naked ear, visiting a rainforest in the Pacific Northwest in February may sound akin to showering naked outdoors at the North Pole.  It's actually much more enjoyable than that, thanks to can-do attitudes and the miraculous properties of Gore-Tex.

The kids were most excited for the ferry portion of the trip.  That is, until Lucien looked outside and nervously remarked the boat alongside the ferry had a large machine gun protruding from the bow.  It was a U.S. Coast Guard boat and it accompanied our ferry across Puget Sound with a man in black standing ready at his large boat gun.

Alex and I tried to make light of it and explain it in a way that wouldn't terrify the children -- "They're protecting us in case terrorists come flying at us on super stealth sonic boats and try to blow us up but don't worry that probably won't happen" -- but inside we were slightly unnerved.  We wondered what the Coast Guard knew that we didn't know (probably quite a lot) and prayed to be quickly delivered from our marked ship. 

We survived the ferry and drove several hours to our cute rental house in the middle of downtown Forks, Washington.  Forks used to be a sleepy little lumber town in the middle of nowhere but is now known worldwide for something less staid -- it's the setting for the vampire-loving Twilight series.

As a result, things have changed in Forks since my last visit ten years ago.  There are many Twilight themed shops and Twilight themed B&B's.  Would you prefer "Edward's Room" or "Jacob's Room?"  You cannot have them both, foolish traveler, you must pick a side.

There's now a Twilight Tour upon which you can visit "Bella's House" and "The Cullen House."  "Bella's Truck" sits outside the market where she worked and there's a parking space reserved for Dr. Cullen at the local hospital.  Forks has plenty of parking so it's not upsetting to the locals one spot sits unused, waiting for a man (vampire) to come to work who does not actually exist.

It's a bit depressing, watching the previously humble Forks milk its brief fame with such obvious pandering to a rabid fanbase.  Enterprising shopkeepers would be foolish not to take advantage, of course, but I still miss the old vampire-and-werewolf-free Forks.

Alex is not dazzled by Twilight

I read the Twilight series when we lived in Paris. Coco was a tiny baby so I would be up at all hours of the night with her.  Twilight was my friend during that time; it was fun enough to make the sleepless nights with Coco on the couch bearable but fluffy enough not to require much thought.  It was exactly what I needed.

Because of my knowledge of the series, I became a very important tour guide for my family.  When we crossed the clearly marked "Treaty Line" I explained to Alex that was the line the vampires and werewolves drew to mark their territories.  I told him the story of "The Cold Ones" as we stood on the Quileute tribe's beaches in La Push.  I located where Bella cliff dived thanks to the Twilight Tour map I'd grabbed at the greasy spoon diner that morning at breakfast. 

Alex listened thoughtfully then said things like, "I get it; the Quileute tribe turned into werewolves and they are the natural enemies of vampires. I understand why that would be so."  I suspected he was making fun of me but knew for sure when he said with a dreamy look on his face and wistful tone to his voice, "I'm so glad you know the rich history of these lands.  I feel I understand the tribe so much better now."

I decided to stop talking about Twilight after that.  I made one exception as I walked behind Coco and Alex in the rainforest.  Coco has a hard time keeping pants up thanks to her lack of hips and resistance to belts, and as they slipped further and further down I said, "Now THAT'S a New Moon" and then laughed hard all by myself.

The Hoh Rainforest is not at all related to Twilight.  It's also one of the few temperate rain forests in North America and is exquisite in its uniqueness. It is no exaggeration to say we were the only car in the parking lot.  The Hoh Rainforest in February is not a hotspot destination.

It should be.  I've been to the Hoh before but this visit was my favorite because we were all alone.  It made the rainforest that much more magically spooky.

We encountered an ethical dilemma in our aloneness.  There was no one posted at the ranger station to collect payment, only a sign requesting we drop our entrance fee in the box outside the visitor center.  Alex and I grinned at each other -- it was a teachable moment!  We were going to teach our children about being honest, and doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

We marched to the box at the visitor center, grabbed an envelope and began our loud and proud speech about personal responsibility.  We pulled our wallets out, squinted at the bills inside, then glanced quickly at each other in alarm.  We had only $10 cash between us. The entrance fee was $15. And those kids were watching us like tiny hawks.

Alex and I began muttering back and forth through clenched and smiling teeth.  "Just shove the cash in fast, maybe they won't notice," said Alex.  So I did. 

We should have known that wasn't going to work.  Lucien sees all and Lucien knows all.

"That's ten dollars, where's the rest?"
"Well, son, it's all we have."
"Well then we can't go in, right?"
"Well... actually we can."
"You said we have to pay!  You said the parks need the money!
"We can support the parks in other ways, such as placing garbage in proper waste receptacles."
 "You have to leave them your credit card number!"
"Oh hell no, son, you're trippin'."
"You said we have to pay the fee, even if there's no one around.  But that's not the fee!"
"You're making us uncomfortable."
"We have to write them an IOU!  You guys! Why are you walking away?!"

We should stop trying to teach valuable lessons and just hope for the best as usual.

At one point while walking through the lush, deliciously fresh rainforest, we decided to go slightly off-road to get down to the water.  Alex slid down the steep muddy semi-trail first, then turned and urged Coco, "Jump!  I'll catch you!"  She jumped because she trusts her Daddy with her whole heart.  Alex caught her fine but her weight threw him off balance so they both went down hard in the mud and slid the rest of the way down the hill.

Coco was so stunned she didn't even cry.  By the time she considered crying, Lucien and I were laughing so hard a small smile appeared at her lips until it took over her entire face. She seemed proud to walk the rest of the day in her mud-encrusted clothing.

I shouldn't have been so quick to laugh at them; on our way back up that hill I slipped and my hand landed in a pile of elk poop. It's cool, I was wearing gloves.

If a tree falls in the rainforest and no one is around, does Lucien still make a sound?
Yes. Many.

The Olympic Peninsula coastal beaches, similar to the rainforest, are at their most incredible when you're the only ones on them.


Coco was knocked over by a rogue wave and landed in the raging surf at the first beach we visited.  That's how she ended up back in the car ten minutes after arrival, pantsless, eating peanuts and reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to RVing.

I was very tense about Lucien also falling into the waves but Alex advised me to be more Buddhist about it and picture Lucien already wet.  It worked.  Lucien fell down soon thereafter and it didn't bother me at all.

Those two tiny figures in the distance above are Alex and Lucien running towards a sea lion we spotted just offshore.  As they stood watching, the sea lion lunged up and out of the water and caught a seagull straight out of the air.  Lucien screamed.  He now knows nature is heartless and untrustworthy.

Our Olympic Peninsula trip was awesome but it certainly wasn't perfect.  There were some squabbles between the kids, some disagreements between the children and their parents.  Lucien may have told us he wanted a new Mom and Dad because we were mean.  At one point during a tense stand-off, I said, "Lucien, are you really listening to me right now?  Because it kind of sounds like you're just humming The Imperial March from Star Wars while glaring at a spot somewhere over my head."

Family trips are family trips, after all.   During the frazzled times they don't feel like they're worth it but then you get home and look over your pictures and realize they were SO WORTH IT.

The ferry of doom pulls back into Seattle without incident 

Team Edward forever,

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gridlock Roadblock

Have you ever had a fight with your spouse?  Have you ever had a fight with your spouse and it's the same fight you've had hundreds if not thousands if not millions of times over the course of your relationship?  Have you ever gotten so "good" at this fight that as soon as the topic is mentioned, you just skip the fight part because you already know it by heart and go straight to the being mad at each other part, arms crossed, not speaking?

It's called gridlock and it's a real bitch.

Alex and I love each other very much but man, we are sick of "that one fight."  Our fight tends to sneak up on us when we least expect it.  An innocent comment made by one of us while out for a nice walk on the beach will trigger the anger of the other and suddenly we're scrambling for pieces of driftwood with which to bludgeon each other.  Similarly, there were several romantic dinners ruined over the years because I suddenly wanted to smash his face into his mashed potatoes.

The same thought always goes through my mind as this is happening: "What the hell is going on?  We were laughing five minutes ago, how did we get here so quickly... I DON'T CARE PUT FACE IN POTATOES."

As my astrologically inclined friends are quick to point out, both Alex and I are fire signs and live up to the reputation of two fire signs in a relationship.  Neither of us seems willing nor able to back down from imminent marital conflict.  We both just roll our sleeves up -- "Oh, it is ON" -- and paw at the earth like two bulls about to charge.

(The good part of being fire signs?  The making up part.  Being firey has its privileges, trust it.)

Here's where I'm going with all this -- Alex and I attended a marriage seminar a couple weekends ago. The marriage workshop was run by Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, who are the preeminent marriage researchers in all of the world.  Over forty years of research have given the Gottman research team the ability to predict divorce with over 90% accuracy after observing a couple in conversation.  That's an impressive fact but it also instilled some fear --we were afraid of walking into the seminar and having the Drs. Gottman point at us and yell, "DOOMED!"

It wasn't like that, thankfully.  The Drs. Gottman are funny and their information straightforward and accessible.  Alex and I got a lot out of it.  We're doing very well at Building Love Maps and Turning Towards each other, and trying hard to avoid the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse while focusing on Soft Start-Ups*.  We're down with Gottman.

*A Soft Start-Up should be a personal statement about the speaker only, and not involve any judgment of the other person.  For example, instead of this --

Me:  I'm so sick of your sh*tty-ass driving, you're a goddamn lunatic on the road and a menace to society.  Pull over now and let me take the wheel before you kill us all, jerk.

I should say:

Me:  You know, I feel really anxious when I'm not in control of my personal locomotion.  Would you mind pulling over and letting me drive before you kill us all, jerk?** 

**Dang. Botched it.  It takes practice, people, I'm working on it.

The second day -- the day that addressed gridlocked conflicts -- was a hard one for all who attended the Gottman marriage workshop.  There were many tears and defensive postures, many silent couples who couldn't even look each other in the eye.  A few people stormed out.  Many, including us, had to wave our blue "Assistance Needed" cards in the air until a roving Gottman-trained therapist could get to us and talk us off the anger ledge.  Marriage, yee-haw.

In the middle of all this longstanding pain and marital suffering was a pair of newlyweds.  They couldn't have been more than 22 or 23 years old, the seminar obviously given to them as a wedding present -- or perhaps a wedding prerequisite -- by a concerned parent.

During our "break-out time," when each couple retreated to private corners of the room to work on Gottman-prescribed relationship exercises, the newlyweds made out.  I mean they really made out.  While other couples cried, and glared, and sat in silence, they giggled, she sat on his lap, they groped.  But what they were really doing was pissing off the sea of middle-aged couples surrounding them whose marriages were in various states of disrepair.

By the end of the seminar, the newlyweds had succeeded in uniting the other 200 of us against them.  You would see embattled spouses walk past them, nudge each other, smile and whisper, "I give 'em two years."  Seasoned couples glanced at other seasoned couples and rolled their eyes in unison -- which is a sign of contempt and one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse so all of our relationships with the newlyweds are likely headed for rupture.  Good riddance, insensitive jerks.

Here's the good news we took away from Gottman: conflict is not bad.  It's healthy.  It's important. How you handle the conflict is the key to staying married.  I won't get into the details but here's a summary of the seminar:

bludgeoning with driftwood = bad
smashing face into mashed potatoes = bad
all the stuff they taught us to do at the workshop = good
donuts = delicious

Alex and I stayed at a downtown hotel for the seminar weekend.  Our trusty and loyal babysitter, "Saint Babysitter," stayed at our house with the kids.  I debated beforehand whether or not to show her our house alarm system but ultimately decided to do it.  I thought she would feel more secure in our strange neighborhood if the alarm was on while she slept.

Saint Babysitter let Oscar out that night before she went to bed.  When she let him back in, she unknowingly did not close the door firmly enough to latch completely.  Then she set the alarm and went upstairs.

An hour later, a strong wind blew the front door open and the alarm went off.  Saint Babysitter came running downstairs in her pajamas to see the door standing wide open at 1:00 a.m.  The alarm was blaring so loudly next to her head she wondered if she'd ever be able to hear the faint whisper of wind through trees again.

Saint Babysitter made a terrified tour of the downstairs to check for intruders hiding behind curtains.  Finding none, she went to disarm the system but her hands were shaking so badly she had a hard time shutting it down.

Our security company, noticing our lengthy alarm, called our cell phone contact numbers but as it was 1:00 in the morning, both Alex and I were asleep and didn't answer.  Back at home, Saint Babysitter took a few deep breaths, reset the alarm, and went back up to bed.  She was rattled but relieved it was over.

Twenty minutes later, as she was drifting off to sleep, the alarm went off again.  After promising herself she would never, ever come back to our hell house if she survived the night, Saint Babysitter ran back downstairs to find three large men in the entry hall.  They boomed, "Who are you?" and she yelled back, "Who are YOU?"

Our security company has a key to our house, you see.  When we didn't answer the monitoring station's calls but they could see the alarm had been turned off by someone, they sent a team to our house to save our sorry asses from whatever circumstances had befallen us.

Saint Babysitter noticed their security company uniforms and realized who they were but they were not so convinced about her.  She told them she was the babysitter.  They asked her name and, unfortunately, her name is the same as my name.  They looked down at the papers in their hands then looked back up incredulously as if to say, "What the hell kind of sick game you playing at, lady?"

The security team grilled her at length, took pictures of her and her drivers license, walked around the house, even poked their heads into the kids' room to make sure they were OK (the kids never woke up, oh to sleep like that again). Finally satisfied, they left.  I don't think Saint Babysitter even attempted to go back to sleep that night.  She just sat in the entry hall on an uncomfortable chair, hyper aware, vigilant, twitching.

It's good to know our monthly monitoring fee is going towards a system that works and will protect us from well-meaning babysitters far into the future.  Also, Stella the parakeet can now mimic the sound of the alarm and does so often.

We spent last week on the Olympic Peninsula for the kids' midwinter break.  Upon our return, we learned Alex's grandmother passed away.  It was not unexpected but it's awfully sad all the same.

Your family is going to miss you, Francoise.  You were a force of nature.  Oh, the stories they're going to tell about you at your funeral!  There will be more laughter than tears, and that's the best way to leave 'em, so nice work.   

the incomparable Francoise
(with the incomparable baby Lucien)

Gottman out,