Stick a Fork in Me

A glimpse of the back side of Colorado's most photographed location, Maroon Bells, as seen from Paradise Bowl in Crested Butte on a perfect ski day. Doesn't get much better than this.

After a short but fun-packed weekend, I am officially done. I’ve been sitting here, staring at this screen for what seems like hours trying to dream up something to write about. But, I’m done. D-O-N-E kind of done. I’m effete from a couple days’ worth of skiing, overindulging, and missing out on good sleep. (Note to self: slopeside rooms, with their amazing views, also gratuitously include the rumble and beeping of snowcats grooming the slopes at 3:30 a.m.). So, I am going to admit defeat tonight and go to bed early. I hope you will forgive me my exhaustion.

I will leave you with this beautiful photo of Colorado that I took with my iPhone yesterday and this quote that summarizes why I will always be a mountain girl.

“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve. They are the cathedrals where I practice my religion…I go to them as humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of the future and, with an unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present moment…my vision cleared, my strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn.”  ~Anatoli Boukreev

Found: Not Just Someone’s Mom

I found a snow cave!

Today, while skiing in Crested Butte, I found myself again. Funny thing is that I’m not even sure I knew I was missing. Once you have children, it is far too easy to forget that you exist outside of the role of parent. I am fairly adept at carving out an hour or two for myself each day, but it’s not until I step away from our home and children and fully relinquish my duties for a while that I rediscover who I am independent of them. When I take away the duty of caring for others, I become a bit lighter and freer.

None of this is to say that I don’t miss my boys. I do. They are everything to me. I can’t imagine my life without them now. Every once in a while, though, it’s good to reconnect with me, the me that I am when I can let go of accountability and relax. I laughed today. In fact, I laughed so hard I quite inappropriately spit some beer. I crawled around in a snow cave. I caught a tiny bit of air on my skis and actually did a bit of woo-hooing (out loud, even) on the slopes. I had a shot of Wild Turkey in the middle of a ski run. And, not once did I worry about the well-being of anyone other than myself.

When we got back to the room after a leisurely late-afternoon latte, I had messages waiting for me from our oldest son via text, voice mail, and video, asking us to come home because he missed us. I felt for him. I really did. It’s hard to know my children are sad. But, I understand how important it is for him to learn that he can function without us. I also know how much better of a parent I am when I have a chance to let go once in a while and be me and not just “Mom.” I’ll be home with my life’s work tomorrow night. But, for the next 18 hours or so, I’m going to revel in being my only responsibility.

The Great Escape

Wagon wheels everywhere!

Hubby and I escaped to Crested Butte this weekend with some friends. The plan…no kids, two days of skiing, uninterrupted meals with alcoholic beverages,  and a king-size suite with mountain view. We got here early this afternoon. First stop, the Brick Oven for pizza and beer. It was 2 p.m. Yes. I had a beer at 2 p.m. It was glorious. After lunch, we strolled around downtown Crested Butte (population: about 1500 crazy, skiing folks), checking out the restaurants and stores. As we were heading back up Elk Street, I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. You can’t be serious. Right there, just feet from the sidewalk, were two benches made out of wagon wheels. Wagon wheels have been a personal joke between Steve and I since the day he decided to install a whiskey barrel into our otherwise extremely natural and tastefully landscaped backyard. I told him that with that whiskey barrel we had officially arrived at one wagon wheel shy of white trash.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.

“It’s a sign,” Steve said.

“Yeah. It’s a sign that too many people came west in covered wagons.”

Still, we had to sit on the stupid bench and have our picture taken. Apparently, I can escape my home life, the kids, the house, the chores. But, no matter what I do, I am doomed. I will never escape the wagon wheel.

Photo op

 

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Luke cooks Ratatouille

I was struggling tonight to come up with something to write about, so I decided to let my sons do my writing for me. In October of 2003, I started keeping a journal of funny or insightful things my boys said. I am still writing things in it and plan to continue until they become teenagers and stop talking to me. Every once in a while, I pull the book out and read to the boys from it. They truly think they are hilarious. I’m too biased to have a fair opinion. All I know is that this book is the only non-living thing I would try to save if our house caught fire. Here are some memories of my young boys that I will always treasure:

February 23, 2004 – Joe found my box of OB tampons. He pulled one out and brought it to me. He asked if he could have “this mint.” I guess it looked like the mints we get in our meals at Chick-Fil-A. Oops.

July 15, 2005 – Today as Joe walked out the slider I heard him say, “Today is a good day for digging, I think.”

January 10, 2006 – Yesterday Joe says, “Mommy…cows pee milk.” To which I, of course, go into this entire dissertation about how a cow has an udder to give milk. His reply, “Mom, my penis is an udder.” And that’s what I get for trying to talk to my boys like they are adults. I give up.

November 9, 2007 – Joe and Luke are fighting. Luke starts in with his fake cry. I ask Joe what’s going on and he says…”We have big time sharing issues, I think.”

August 8, 2008 – Today Joe noticed he’d put a tiny hole in his new stuffed toy. He was noticeably upset about it. His comment: “Mom, I think I loved him too much.”

February 12, 2009 – Joe just said, “If you really want to find out a mystery, you ask God.”

May 8, 2009 – I heard Luke taunting Joe saying, “I’m gonna cook your mouse.” Joe had just gotten a stuffed mouse from a prize box at school. I told Luke to knock it off and stop teasing his brother. A while later, I hear Luke say, “Joe…I’m cooking your mouse.” So, I turn around to tell him to stop with this “cooking” talk only to find Luke at the table, Joe’s stuffed mouse tied to a stick from the yard, the stick stuck between two upright clothespins, and a paper drawing of fire underneath him. He was roasting Ratatouille on a spit, just like he said he would. He’s a creative kid. Scary, but creative.

March 20, 2010 – The other night we were in a Brazilian steakhouse with the boys. In an effort to try to get Luke to try some new foods, I offered him a dollar. He looked pointedly at me and counter-offered with $6. I said, “No way, Luke. $1 is my offer.” To which he replied, “Okay. Okay. $1….plus $5.” The kid is way too smart.

April 16, 2010 – Buddy (our springer/lab mix) is still alive. He’s over 13 years old and still kicking. The other day Joe said, “Buddy must have drank from the doggy Holy Grail.”

May 8, 2011 – Today Luke said to Joe (after Steve poured me a big glass of wine), “It’s Mom’s lucky day.”

February 6, 2012 – Tonight I heard Luke chastising Joe for being mean to him. I backed Luke up and told Joe to knock it off. Then I heard Luke tell Joe, “You see that? Mom’s nice to me, Joe. Dad’s nice to me too.” Then there was a long pause as Joe returned to Luke the toy that was the cause of the discord. “And, you’re nice to me too, Joe.” Awwww.

I knew there was a reason I wanted two sons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do These Monkeys Make Me Look Fat?

This is what I do to the monkeys I pluck off my back. Paybacks are a bitch.

“Out of the strain of the doing, into the peace of the done.”  ~Julia Louis Woodruff

I’m wiped out. Normally I am wiped out because I get in a good workout or take a hot yoga class or become mentally exhausted dealing with my kids. Today, however, I am bushed because I cleaned my house. I mean, really cleaned it. In an attempt to get some monkeys off my back, I finally took care of things that had been bothering me for months. I vacuumed behind furniture. I dusted wood blinds. I hand-washed floors. I cleaned baseboards. I wiped off the spindles on the staircase. I was a woman possessed. As I crossed items off my mental checklist, I felt myself getting lighter and lighter as the monkeys became fewer and fewer.

As I was doing all these things, I reflected on why I go so long in between these tasks. Why do I let the monkeys pile up? I decided it all comes down to choices. It’s as if I have some unwritten mental hierarchy of things I detest. When I’m faced with two different options, my brain will consistently choose the task I’ve determined to be less despicable, even if the margin between the two choices is barely perceptible. Walk the dog or clean the bathroom? Walk the dog. Clean the bathroom or wash the floors? Clean the bathroom. Wash the floors or dust the blinds. Wash the floors. This same pattern holds true of personal chores. I’d rather pay the bills than schedule a dental appointment, but I’d rather wash my car than pay the bills. Things I hold the greatest disdain for wait the longest for my attention.

In the end, though, my intense hatred for the monkeys wins out. Eventually, whatever it is I’ve been avoiding will weigh me down until I feel it will flatten me. When I reach my limit, I flip a switch and go into a manic state, and I start tossing monkeys. That’s what happened to me today. My opportunity to snowshoe drizzled away while I scrubbed the shower floor. The chance to hit my yoga mat for an hour zipped by while my vacuum and I attacked stairs and sucked up cobwebs. Before I knew it, the entire day was over. And, for once, I did have something to show for it. My house is so clean right now I’m afraid that when my sister visits on Friday she’ll ask me if we’ve hired a cleaning service. I’m also afraid that my husband will now recognize that I am capable of cleaning and getting a tasty, well-balanced meal on the table; I fear he might begin to expect this on a regular basis. (Good luck to him if that’s the case.)

The most amazing thing happens when I truly apply myself and give something all my attention. I find I can accomplish a lot and accomplish it with great success. Okay. So I didn’t get in an official workout today, and I skipped my shower. It’s all good. It was all worth it. As I sit here writing this, I feel peaceful and about 10 monkeys lighter as I look around my dustless, dog-hair free, neat bedroom. Okay. Maybe it is just exhaustion and not peace, but I’ll take it. Look out, monkeys. Now that I remember how relatively pain-free it is to get rid of you, you might just have to find another host to carry you around.

The Fine Art of Accepting the Unacceptable

My nightmares often include my son Luke sitting in a dental chair

“Some people confuse acceptance with apathy, but there’s all the difference in the world. Apathy fails to distinguish between what can and what cannot be helped. Acceptance makes that distinction. Apathy paralyzes the will-to-action; acceptance frees it by releasing it of impossible burdens.”          ~ Arthur Gordon

In each and every calendar year, there are two days that I dread with every fiber of my being. They happen at roughly six month intervals. And, while I appreciate having some distance between them, all that really means for me is that by the time I’ve mostly healed from the scar of the last time I get to do it again. What are these heinous days of which I speak? Why, they’re D-Days…the days my sons get to go for their bi-yearly dental visits.

Before I go any further, please understand that I love my sons’ pediatric dentist and the entire staff at Southwest Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics as much as any person (other than a sadist) could love a dentist. They are the most helpful, professional, gentle adults, and their patience with my boys certainly qualifies them for sainthood, or at least knighthood. It’s hard to get any young boy to sit still in a dental chair for work. It’s nearly impossible to get a boy with ADHD to stay still and pay attention long enough for a proper dental cleaning. When Dr. Jim had to get braces on Joe’s teeth two years ago, I thought I would never recover from the trauma. And, Joe is my good dental patient.

Luke is a veritable nightmare at the dentist. He has an unbelievable gag reflex. In fact, as both Dr. Scott and the Mother Theresa-esque hygienist Kristy told me today, Luke is by far THE worst gag reflex patient either of them has ever seen. Ever. How’s that for a claim to fame for your child? Luke’s gag reflex is attributable to several things, a perfect storm of issues: 1) an actual oral defensiveness to textures and touch , 2) an oversensitivity to smells that makes so many things nauseating for him, 3) an active imagination (he can see something that grosses him out and puke as if on command…like the time he saw the preview for the film How To Eat Fried Worms and promptly vomited in the theater), and 4) a now-ingrained mental condition that makes him gag the minute the dentist or hygienist ask him to open his mouth. Luke has puked on poor Kristy before. And on me. And on Dr. Scott. I never leave these visits without a headache. I often find myself in the car afterwards in tears, full of frustration, dentist bill in my hand, beating my head against my steering wheel while my son watches with still uncleaned teeth.

Luke has done occupational therapy to combat his oral defensiveness. I’ve researched herbal remedies and acupuncture to see if those might be able to help. I’ve actually considered hypnotherapy for him. Can you do that with an 8 year old? Today, Dr. Scott suggested that next time we sedate Luke with nitrous oxide to see if that will help. Of course, insurance won’t cover that but if it works it would be worth it. I considered asking Dr. Scott if he could hook me up next visit too. Even if it’s not covered, at least with the nitrous I could relax a little in that office for once. Then, Dr. Scott casually mentioned that it is his job to prepare Luke for the approximately three years of orthodontics he expects Luke will need. Looking on the bright side, Dr. Scott told me that he’s fairly certain that by the time Luke is finished with braces his gag reflex will mostly likely be under control. What he failed to quip about is that by the time Luke is finished with braces I won’t care about his gag reflex anymore because I’ll be heavily sedated wearing a white coat with sleeves that attach in the back.

A while back I mentioned that I had seven mantras I was working on this year. One of them is “Practice Acceptance.” Practicing acceptance means letting go of the desire to be in control. That is what I have to do on Dentist Days. I practice accepting Joe’s ADHD tics and Luke’s crazy gag reflex. I practice accepting that this is who they are. It’s nothing they’re doing intentionally. They can’t help it. They’re not bad kids. These are simply their crosses to bear. They’re mine too, at least until they turn 18. I’ve been going through this with them since they were infants. Back then, it was frustrating. I didn’t understand. I got annoyed by it easily. As they got older, I got better at recognizing it for what it was, but it still embarrassed and aggravated me. It’s taken me nearly 11 years, but I am now able to accept these issues for what they are. Issues. We all have them. I don’t like it, but I have to live with it.

In the grand scheme of things, I know it’s not the worst thing I could have to handle with my boys. They’re healthy, able-bodied, sharp-minded kids. We’re making progress, oh-so-slowly but definitely surely. We’ll get it figured out eventually. I’ve never liked the saying “It is what it is” because it seems so lazy. But, in these situations, that phrase is completely valid. So, I’m going to continue working to accept the situation not out of apathy but instead with the understanding that not accepting it places an unreasonable burden on my two great kids who are just doing the best they can with what they’ve been given.

Summa Cum Laude

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”  ~Henry Ford

Me and Rosie the Tarantula...making nice

Ever since I hit 40, I’ve been on a quest to try new things. I originally attributed this quest to a desire to do as much as I can with my life while I still can do it. Midlife scares the bejeezus out of me daily because I know that from here it’s merely a blink of an eye to the day when I’m 70, assuming of course that I’m graced with that many years. The more I’ve reflected on the more open attitude I’ve taken about life since turning 40, the more I consider how many new things I’ve tried than I would have even considered 10 years ago, the clearer it has become that my desire to do these new things is not rooted in a thirst for adventure but rather in a pilgrimage for knowledge.

Ever since I was young, learning has been important to me. I knew in grade school that I wanted to get an advanced degree after four years of college. I’ve never considered any class a waste of time. I enjoy studying new a wide variety of things. At CU, I studied astronomy, Latin, Chicana studies, and the history of the English language. I’ve seriously considered pursuing a law degree for the sake of learning and not for the sake of practicing it. Outside college, I’ve taken cooking classes, burlesque classes, wine classes, and rock climbing classes. I’ve tried my hand at cake decorating, snowboarding, swing dancing, and ropes courses.

Even outside of classes, things I’ve done have been an education. Last year when I let Rosie (the tarantula) walk on my hand at the Butterfly Pavilion, for example, I learned that maybe I’m not as afraid of spiders as I thought I was. Rosie was actually quite nice in that she tickled me as she walked across my hand and she didn’t bite me. She didn’t even visit me in my dreams, nice spider she is. I learn something new every single time I step onto my yoga mat, which is probably why after two years I still look forward to practicing. A little over a year ago when I did the Polar Plunge in Boulder, I learned that two minutes of discomfort can yield days of euphoria. And, when my boys have a question, I’m quick to the jump on the internet or go to the library and find us all an answer. It’s a little known fact that there’s a reason why my sisters joke that I’m their Cliff Clavin.

I’ve been thinking as I approach 44 that the only way a person can remain young as their body ages is by trying new things and remaining open to novel experiences. I get depressed if I’m not regularly discovering and then reveling in something new about life, my friends and family, myself, or the world. This morning Joe told me that hammerhead sharks swim in schools during the day. Good to know, I thought. Knowledge can sometimes come from unlikely sources, so it’s best to pay attention. The happiest people I know are the ones who are insatiably curious and open to life. When I leave this world, at whatever age I depart, my plan is to graduate from my class summa cum laude.

Edelweiss

The whole family in Alaska

Hubby and I agree on most things. What we don’t agree on is how to spend our disposable income. Hubby likes to buy gear and gadgets. I prefer to save money and then spend it on travel. It’s a source of friction. When hubby wants to buy a gadget, I bristle. When I want to book costly travel, he hems and haws.

We are an Apple household. We own: an iMac with a 27″ screen, a MacBook Pro, four iPhones (two iPhone 3s and the 2 iPhone 4s, which subsequently replaced them), two iPads, two Apple TV units, a Nano, an iPod, and a Shuffle. We had an iTouch, which I made hubby sell when he wanted the first iPad. I’m not telling you this to brag because honestly (although I enjoy my technology) I’m a little embarrassed. I am sure we’re helping to put several Apple employees’ children through Stanford. When I think about the places we could have gone or the things we could have seen using the money we spent on electronics, I cringe.

We have done some traveling, but most of the traveling we’ve done has been on trips booked and paid for by my in-laws. Every five years they celebrate their wedding anniversary by taking the entire family somewhere. Because of these trips, I have been to England, Alaska, and Norway. My in-laws have saved my marriage by taking me to the places my hubby refuses to pay to go. I’ve been saving quarters for two years now in an effort to shore up some cash to take the boys to Hawaii. I haven’t decided whether I’ll bring Steve with me on that trip.

Yesterday we had a long discussion about snowshoes, new showshoes which Steve thinks he “needs” because he’s not happy with the ones he has now. I have a hard time wanting to approve a couple hundred dollar purchase of something he already owns. So, we were going round and round about it. His current snowshoes are already better quality than the ones I own. He offered to give me his current shoes when he buys his new ones. As if that was supposed to encourage me to endorse the purchase. We finally agreed that he would wait until the end of this snow season to see if he could find a deal for next year’s snowshoes.

This morning, Steve was looking at a National Geographic magazine on his iPad. He was browsing through photos from around the globe. First he was showing me photos of Sami reindeer herders in Norway. Then he moved on to photos of Europe.

“I want to go to Vienna,” he stated.

“That’s not on the top of my list,” I countered, “but it would be cool to go there. We could hit Prague then too.”

“I think we’d love it. I think we should go.”

“Well, you can’t get to Vienna on snowshoes, babe,” I quipped.

“I decided I’m not getting the snowshoes,” he replied.

Victory! Who knows? We maybe I’ll be singing Edelweiss sooner than I thought.

 

 

 

Casting Shadows

A girl and her dog on a winter's afternoon walk.

 

We went out for a short snowshoe hike today in pristine snow left by the early February snowpocalypse. Not many people had ventured out onto the open space yet, so the unsullied snow begged for attention. Ruby ran ahead, bounding through drifts that sometimes left nothing but her head and shoulders exposed. Her palpable joy told me that this is what her heaven will look like. The sun was beginning to sink behind the foothills as we headed back to the house, so our shadows stretched out before us. I captured this self portrait, a girl and her dog.

I find peace in my shadow. It can raise me in stature or knock me down to size, but it consistently offers a stripped-down representation of my most basic form. In my shadow there is no room for vanity or insecurity about my appearance. It’s so simple, quiet, and soft, so unwilling to accept self-criticism or condemnation. My shadow doesn’t care how old I am. It doesn’t record my wrinkles or count my grey hairs. It doesn’t care if my clothes don’t match or my mascara is smeary. A shadow simply represents my true self, the evanescent spirit that resides within this physical house. It tells me that who I truly am has nothing to do with the way I appear. I am boundless and free. My shadow knows that I’m so much bigger than my body gives me credit for, and that’s why in the late afternoon it gives me room to be eight feet tall.**

 

(**Apologies to John Mayer for stealing his line.)

Nothing Nice To Say

Dark cloud looming ominously over our otherwise idyllic suburban neighborhood

The lovely suburban neighborhood we live in has its own Facebook page. It’s a good place to get an update about a missing dog or a school fundraiser. Neighbors share business information for reliable painting companies and helpful handymen. Folks will report the occasional rattlesnake bite or caution others about a bear sighting. In addition to all the useful updates I receive through following this group on Facebook, however, I am also privy to neighbor’s tirades about the HOA, the management company they hired, our waste disposal service, and the City of Littleton. Many days there is more drama on our neighborhood Facebook group than there is on any daytime soap opera on television. It can be like watching a train wreck with slightly less blood and gore.

I’m perpetually amazed, although mostly disappointed, by the vitriolic diatribes people will post on the Internet in a forum like our neighborhood one where they essentially then out themselves to their neighbors as hot-headed grumps with a poor grammatical skills. I know. I know. By posting my own harangue here about these people I’m essentially the pot calling the kettle out for its blackness. I prefer to imagine, however, that my verbal rants are at least a smidgen more coherent and a truckload less bitter.

What fascinates me is the way the Internet has opened up an entirely new avenue for people to share the worst of themselves with the world. Once there was a time when we might complain to a neighbor about something that annoyed us. Now we can instantly complain to an entire neighborhood. What people learn about us is no longer simply gossip. We can incriminate ourselves with lightning speed. We throw things up onto the Internet like we hurtle snowballs at a barn wall, expecting that our words like the snowballs will melt and disappear over time, but they don’t. The Internet isn’t ethereal. If you don’t believe me, just Google yourself and see what comes up. You might be surprised with how much a person can find out about you just by searching a few simple details on the Internet. What’s worse is that there is no context for the information that’s out there, so how people come to know us without actually knowing us is quite subjective.

Now, maybe some people don’t understand how they come across with instant media like a comment on a Facebook page. I’ll tell you this, though, from our little, innocent, neighborhood Facebook group, I’ve already formed a judgment about some neighbors without ever having met them. Their names and their nasty comments are etched into my brain. Is it right for me to form a judgement about someone before I know them? Of course not. But, it’s how things are now. I put my thoughts out there on the Web and people can believe they know me without truly knowing me at all. So, before you go off on some nasty tangent on Facebook (or any other trackable Internet site), you might take a second to contemplate whether what you’re saying is an adequate representation of who you truly are. You know, what my mother told me repeatedly as I was growing up holds especially true with the Internet. Maybe if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all?