Dear Froot Loops: I Love You

Published in The Ferndale Record, December 31, 2014

I know. You and I got a late start. I had to dabble in healthier choices before I finally got around to knowing you better.

Most of my adult life I’ve purchased virtuous cereal. I always chose the less offensive (sorry, my love) alternatives in the name of nourishing children and their growing bodies. You know the ones – Corn Flakes, Cheerios (if I was feeling especially rebellious, I bought the Honey Nut variety) and of course, Corn Chex.

I sometimes opted for Raisin Bran or homemade granola with wheat germ because, well, that’s what responsible parents do, and I liked to believe I was one of them.

But every now and then, I’d come home with a box of Lucky Charms and the troops would lose control. I learned the hard way how small cereal boxes really are. At some point I showed up with you, Froot Loops, and that sealed the deal. I knew you were special, and looked for ways to have you in the house without children knowing. I live alone now, and don’t have to hide your bright red box.

I’m pretty sure no one else enjoys you in the same way I do, but you already know that. I don’t bathe you in milk, but enjoy you straight from the box, or if I’m feeling particularly polite, I’ll pour my loops into a bowl. The only milk I drink with you is of the chocolate persuasion, and in a glass. Who else does this?

I’ve read that there’s no discernible flavor difference between your colors. Your purple loops are not grape-flavored, your orange, yellow, red, blue and green loops apparently aren’t assigned any flavor either. But you know what? I don’t care. The inherent loopy goodness is all that matters.

Once I made the mistake of trying Trix because I assumed, except for the shape, you were identical. Can you forgive me? Sure, Trix are round, and so are you, but with none of the explosive, sweet, crackly crunchiness that’s so crisp it sometimes scratches against the top of my mouth in that way I like.

Remember a month ago when I was jonesing for you? I went into Rite Aid where your 8.7-ounce boxes were two for only $5. I bought one, plus a bottle of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup and a half-gallon of milk. You disappeared in around 24 hours. I felt some shame about that, but only a little. The other thing I felt was my body holding up the proverbial ‘hand’ in ugly protest.

Let the others have their Cap’n Crunch (with Crunch Berries), Lucky Charms, Cookie Crisp, Reese’s Puffs and Count Chocula. I don’t crave any of them like I do you.

I love that if I shop smart I can find you on sale. I love the little sugary bits in the bottom of the box’s plastic liner. I love that there will never be a New Year’s resolution about less of you in my future. I even love the clever way you spell your name, with two Os in “Froot.”

My unabashed Froot Loop love – now it’s out there.

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Forgiveness: It’s What’s For Dinner

Published in the Ferndale Record, October 29, 2014

It’s almost time to sit around the dining room table with family and either really enjoy it, or really hate it. Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings have a way of making us remember either why we love the people we do, or why we left home and rarely come back.

Recently I heard a speaker talk about how to obtain confidence, specifically spiritual confidence – the kind that let’s you know you’re doing good things and making progress without having to be perfect. I needed this.

I also needed each of his six practical suggestions to get and stay on this road, but one of them knocked me out. He said it like it could be done, and many will believe it can’t, but I think it can. Here’s the suggestion:

“Become really, really good at forgiving. Forgive everyone, everything, all the time, or at least strive to do so, thus allowing forgiveness into your own life. Don’t hold grudges, don’t be easily offended, forgive and forget quickly.”

I’ve been playing with this for the past few weeks and here’s what happened. I don’t naturally give others the benefit of the doubt—I have to work at it. But when I force myself to try, it’s easier the next time.

For instance, it means that when the guy on TV yells at me to buy OxiClean, or an ad pops up on a website inviting me to learn “73 Things About Reese Witherspoon You Didn’t Know,” I need to replace the snark running around my brain, and remember one of the things I’ve learned about marketing – it’s meant to be in your face.

Or, when I’m on the freeway and that woman on her cell passes me just in time to make the same exit I’m taking, instead of muttering and laying on the horn, I can relax and tell myself that maybe she really, really needed to be somewhere in a hurry.

These examples sound syrupy, sniveling and unimportant. They aren’t. Simple steps make the big ones easier. It’s a chain reaction, I promise.

When we think we know what someone else should be doing, saying or being, we really don’t. We know what we see. What we can’t see is what’s in their hearts.

Forgiving is one of those things that doesn’t have to be easier said than done. I know this because I’ve lived with people, (yes, LIVED with) who knew how to, and chose to forgive instantly.

I’m not talking here about huge issues that stem from hurtful relationships and habits. Those need to be addressed on their own levels and take time.

But maybe they won’t take as much time as we think. Forgiveness can be done and over with in seconds. The deed, the slight, the hurt can be forgotten – but here’s the catch: we have to just do it. Not wait, not let it simmer, not ruminate about how we’re right and the other person is wrong (although that may be true). We can simply let go of the rope.

Soured relationships turn sweet, impatience gives way to understanding and holiday dinners become something to look forward to.

The freedom associated with this is at once terrifying, exhilarating and enlightening. It’s like high stakes risk without the chance of a crash and burn.

You win every time.

When You Can’t Fix It

Published in the Ferndale Record, October 1, 2014

One of the best parts about working in an elementary school is making things better. A knee scrape? Bandages make tears stop. Fall off the monkey bars? An ice pack eases that twisted ankle. Even hurt feelings are talked through and children run back to class together, still friends.

Sometimes these quick fixes happen too fast for my liking. The nurturing part of me wants the child to linger so I can dry tears and impart warm words before sending them back into fray. This happens only occasionally.

The dichotomy of circumstances at school and those in other parts of my life is not lost on me. A situation, a person or relationship that I see as troubled gets my attention. My nature is to spring into action, to fix it, to be proactive, to make the hurt go away. The catch is that usually, real life doesn’t work like it does in kindergarten through fifth grade.

It’s not that these other day-to-day situations can’t be fixed, but I’m not necessarily the one to do it. That’s the problem. There lies the anger, the sorrow, and frustration that accompany so many scenarios in the life of a nurturer. Other people help, too. In fact, other people besides me are crucial.

When my best friend’s husband was in an accident that almost claimed his life, I dropped everything – like anyone would, and went to her side. So did many other people and this, I’m sorry to say, annoyed me. She was MY best friend, not someone else’s! I was the one she should lean on. I was the one who would make her life easier.

I expressed these sentiments to my husband and he kindly explained that at this moment in my best friend’s life, she had more needs than one person could fill. I could definitely be who I was to her, but others were wanted and needed, too. It was all about continued, ongoing and widespread support and nothing about me.

My nurturing instinct doesn’t just want to fix problems; it wants to make the pain vanish. If I could do this, as much as I hate to admit it, it would defeat the very things that build character in other people. Pain might go away, but there would be no courage or growth, no accountability or responsibility on the other end. I would effectively erase all of that, too.

Watching people I care about suffer is uncomfortable and at times close to unbearable, but I’ve been through rough spots, too. And I know that’s where personal and spiritual strength is born – in the crucible of suffering.

So, I try to remember the following:

-When I can’t fix it, whatever it is, I remember it’s probably not mine to fix – at least not entirely.

-My job is to be kind, supportive (in the ways most needed, not necessarily in the ways I perceive as helpful) and non-judgmental.

-Prayer, good vibes and white light are things I can offer in the direction of whoever needs it.

I’m more of a positive influence when I stop feeling helpless, and start doing whatever I can with the above rules. Flailing along and making it about my needs are never right.

Toasters and cars are fixed by people who know how to do those things. I can’t definitively mend most situations, but I can let go of what I can’t do and concentrate on what I can.

July 2014

Book CoverPublished in the Ferndale Record, July 30, 2014

Some months deliver more gravy than others, and July has been one bubbling with delicious epiphanies.

*I went outside a lot. For a rain-loving, indoor activity enthusiast, being out in the world meant re-discovering the feel of sun on my shoulders, connecting with neighbors and being less afraid of “what’s out there.”

As a fair weather bicyclist, sticking to flat routes with few rises and low, if any, traffic, I’ve hardly biked Ferndale at all. But this month, I found my groove on a few city streets and in the park. I’m a treadmill runner, but discovered that running works outside, too. In short, I got a little braver. Probably not faster – but a little more comfortable with what I can do and where I can do it.

*One Sunday night, kind of by accident, most of my children were in my home. It was dinnertime and there was food enough for all, but one component was missing – gooey dessert. A Sunday staple, something decadent is always served up, especially when we get together. One son stepped forward, enlisted the help of his sister and suggested they go to the store and buy needed supplies. I tried to talk them down, thinking we’d be OK just this once.

Then, the boy, in a declarative statement built on his almost 30 years of experience, and founded in deep family roots said, “No. We need to have something. It’s what we do.”

I was amused at how serious he was about dessert. Then, days later, like it usually happens, the meaning of what he said tumbled in on me. “It’s what we do,” meant tradition and connection. It was important. We had dessert that night. In fact, we had two.

*From an early age I wasn’t crazy about heights. It’s only been in recent years that I kind of enjoy air travel. Because of this, and because he likes to surprise me, my youngest child kept a huge secret until after a planned adventure. He told almost everyone in the free world what his plans were, but not me.

He came in casually one night and told us he’d been skydiving that day. My first response was, “No you didn’t.” It turns out he had a certificate, a DVD, and a goofy grin to prove it. Thinking about a person I would take a bullet for falling voluntarily from a plane, and knowing he was telling the truth about it, felt like a direct punch to my gut.

Here’s the gravy part: After the initial shock and awe wore off, his enthusiasm had me considering a jump of my own. I kissed his cheek and said, “You rock.” In another, not so long ago life, I would have required resuscitation and ongoing therapy. This time I asked questions like, “What were you thinking about before the chute opened? Were you afraid? What was the landing like?” It’s all on the DVD.

I’m going to store all of this month’s goodness like a squirrel stores nuts in his cheeks. And hopefully, other times that are not so full of sweetness and discovery will be a little less difficult because I had July.

A Few Things Nobody Wants To Know

Published in The Ferndale Record, June 25, 2014

Some people are natural conversationalists. They know how to crank up the energy of a chat and keep it flowing. Others among us are less talented and need guidance as to what constitutes pleasant, meaningful, or especially appropriate engagement with others.

What some consider icebreakers are actually conversation killers, usually shared by those who can’t wait to see the reaction they’re going to get. These subjects will torpedo any friendly banter you thought you had with another person. Because even though he may appear to be politely listening, what you can’t see is the shudder in his soul.

The following is a brief tutorial and may or may not apply to you or anyone you know.

Here are some things nobody wants to hear about:

What your dog ate. Anyone with an imagination can come up with an answer to this.

Don’t talk about a lump the size of a grapefruit they removed from your uncle. This story is usually whipped out around the time a waiter brings the appetizers.

How you bought underpants at 75% off at Goodwill. While your ability to sniff out a bargain is admirable we don’t need the visual.

We don’t want to know details about the foot fungus you picked up on your trip to India.

Please do not refer to the color, shape, or texture of anything you, or anyone you’ve ever known, has emitted from a bodily orifice—with the possible exception of the time you gave birth to a baby. We would like to know basic details concerning the baby. But only the basics, please.

What you found growing on your teenage son’s bathmat. It doesn’t matter to anyone if it’s science, nature or just filthy. Don’t talk about it.

People don’t want to hear about how no one appreciates you at work. We’ve all been there.

Don’t mention that time you did karaoke when you were drunk, or information concerning your comprehensive collection of old TV Guides.

Nothing about how your friend’s mother’s cousin knows a person who married someone famous, or the biology behind your tendency to sweat profusely when you’re nervous.

Skip the intimate details of pig farming, or the way you personally remove unwanted hair from your nose or ears. Also, please say nothing about the mating habits of insects, farm animals or your pets. If you were raised on a farm this may be excellent tinder for conversation in some circles, but not in most.

Other subjects that most people are not interested in: Embalming methods and preferences, how your bicycle seat doesn’t line up with your crotch, why you do or do not have abundant hair in certain places on your body, the IQ of your child or grandchild, the joys of snake-handling, specific issues concerning your septic tank woes, the exact size of the spider you found in your bathtub, what hot dogs and sausages are really made of, and anything you do in the bathroom.

The next time you begin a fascinating story and say, “Hey! Did I ever tell you about (insert cringe-worthy topic here)?” stop and think, and then please don’t.

This has been a public service. You’re welcome.

Lunch With The Boy

Published in the Ferndale Record, April 30, 2014

Many years ago when my father was hospitalized for a few days, I went to Oregon to see him and my mother. It was just me – no husband or children. I didn’t think much about it until my mom kept mentioning how happy she was, how grateful, that I’d come to spend time with her.

I was in the middle of the fray that is a young family and everything that means. Taking a few days to spend with my parents didn’t feel like a sacrifice, it felt like a vacation. But what was curious about it was my mother’s response. She never forgot and long after expressed her thanks.

Looking at this incident from a different angle now, I get her enthusiasm.

I remembered it again today when a tall, handsome, bearded boy that lives in Seattle treated me to lunch. He’d come to Bellingham for another purpose, but expressed desire to spend a little time with his mom. I was happy to oblige.

We sat across from each other noshing on sandwiches and salads and talked about everything from the intrinsic differences between introverts and extroverts, to making unpopular decisions, to why we like certain music, to how the human mind operates. There wasn’t a cell phone, or another person we knew, in sight.

When kids are little, you have to kind of work to make these things happen. You set up ‘daddy-daughter dates’, or ‘mommy and me’ time. The same is true with grown children, only the onus is often on them. My life is comparatively simple, and my schedule a little more flexible. When one of them chooses to hang out with me, it’s a gift of their time I don’t take casually.

So, today, for the bazillionth time, I noted the shape of his nose, the way he laughs, the texture of his hair, the growing wisdom in his thoughts, and the strength in his hug. Being a word person, I also felt a little glee when he used ‘reprehensible’ as part of conversation.

When he brought me home I got to hear him play the piano again, and talk about music a little more. I watched as he returned a phone call to his little brother, and waved as he drove away. And even though I didn’t ask for his support and love on this particular day, I felt it. And he likely didn’t realize, again, what all of this meant to his Saturday lunch date.

It’s pretty simple, really. My mom was responding to time alone with one of her children, who had gone out of the way to be with her. And this afternoon I feel probably kind of like she did. Grateful, for sure, but also a little in mother-love – that goofy, inexplicable joy that only certain people on the planet, no matter how old they seem to get, can make me feel.

Individuals in families sometimes take each other for granted. We assume, we expect, we put pressure on and try to control our most important connections. But isn’t it lovely when we don’t, and things work out anyway?

Not So Fast, Ben Franklin

Published in the Ferndale Record, March 26, 2014

According to Benjamin Franklin, the only inevitabilities are death and taxes. As much as I admire the man, I disagree. Certainty is all over the place. Here are a few examples.

If you suspect your breath is bad, it is. Your neighbors, no matter how delightful and engaging eventually do something to annoy you. A plant you’ve kept alive for many years will, quite suddenly and without provocation, turn into compost.

When money is tight, you’ll consume lettuce that’s just a little too brown around the edges. You’ll also cut open a toothpaste tube to scrape out what’s left, because you’d rather buy food than toothpaste.

Milk sometimes turns sour before its alleged expiration date. A bird with a bowel disorder will perch on a wire above your freshly washed car. You find yourself in the longest line at the grocery store, bank, or gas station.

Someone, somewhere will help you for no other reason than the fact that you are alive and on his or her daily path. Someone you don’t know will call to inquire about your Internet and phone service. Another someone will quote something you once said to someone else.

A song or sentence will get stuck in your head. Loving another person provides you with your own brand of unimaginable joy and searing pain. Wearing the right glasses helps you see more clearly. Flowers bloom in the spring and leaves fall off trees in autumn.

Corruption in government spans the world. Fraudulent practices and deceptive national leaders are everywhere. One can find perfectly sized pants, but it usually takes more effort than hoped. Sometimes, airplanes disappear – they always have, and they always will.

A doctor will recommend you get a blood test. You will get something in your eye, and it will be irritating. After seeing a particularly good movie or devouring an inspiring book, you’ll say these words to another human being: “You have to see/read this!” You receive an email from Verizon Wireless (insert other carrier name here), even if you don’t use its services. You’ll be curious about the gender of your unborn child.

Cheap motel rooms smell like stale Pall Mall. Queen Elizabeth always carries a purse. People are never the sum of who you think they are. A particularly productive trip to the bathroom changes your day. A phone call, text message, email, or a letter received from the post office will change your life.

New babies cry when they’re hungry. If you’re over 50, staying up until 3:00am, for whatever reason, pretty much makes the next day a complete loss. Baseball is dubbed “America’s Pastime,” but football is more popular. Light and hope dispels darkness and despair. The Xerox copier at your workplace will become, if it isn’t already, a source of woe.

Golden Graham S’mores don’t last for long. Lemon sorbet cleanses the palate. Rooms that house teenage boys smell like a cross between a barn and a locker room. Best friends always disagree on something. And my final two inevitables: The birthday song at Red Robin and the birthday sombrero at your favorite Mexican restaurant.

Oh, and Mr. Franklin, there are plenty more.

Cold-Blooded Focus? I Can Do That.

Published in the Ferndale Record, February 26, 2014 

In a recent conversation with one of my children we talked about Olympic athletes. He’s met more than a couple and I asked him about their common characteristics.

After some careful thought, he said two things. First, they are gracious. Maybe it has something to do with representing our country, he said. But their kindness, willingness to engage the public and take time with fans was paramount.

The next thing he said was less predictable. “They are all cold-blooded killers.” Their sport is a primary focus and they are fierce competitors. Observing them in ‘normal’ conversation and then in their sports element is to witness acute extremity.

The Olympics inspire me even though I’ll never be an athlete on the world stage. I’m drawn to the dedication involved in the pursuit, the sacrifice, and the laser beam focus that prevails despite inevitable setbacks.

When our family gets together to watch the Olympics (yes, we do that), we see snowboarders and skiers climb into the sky performing impossible tricks, executing flawless landings. Our favorite thing to say (with mouthfuls of cookies) is, “I could do that, but I don’t want to.”

Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci stunned the world at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and is just eight years younger than I am. At 22 years old, I thought whatever she did that made her great wasn’t totally out of my reach – if I really wanted to do it.

Fact: I never really wanted to do it. Well that, and of course, Nadia had that whole talent thing going for her.

But within my capability are the desire, the focus and perseverance that can accompany anything I choose.

So, I ask myself: What do I want that much? What demands my unrelenting focus? What do I have to do to get what I want? Am I willing to do it?

For me, and maybe most of us, the answers don’t involve world-class training or years and money spent on coaches and training camps. It’s about what I’ve already chosen and how I can make it my best.

What do construction workers, artists, farmers, ballerinas, grocery cashiers, school teachers, plumbers, book editors, Mary Kay representatives, engineers, park rangers, bank tellers, custodians, meter maids, entrepreneurs and tattoo artists do to keep an unflinching, beady eye on important personal or career goals?

Olympic athletes don’t make up most of the world. But they have something to teach the rest of us. Reptilian, steely focus born of practice and desire is the stuff of dreams, whether it involves marriage, gardening or Zumba.

Jeremy Abbott, a U.S. figure skater, took a brutal fall against the boards during his short program in Sochi. He was visibly hurt and no one would have thought any less of him for limping off the ice. But he stood, gained his composure, and completed his skate – to a standing ovation from the Russian audience.

Most of us won’t get applause for showing up to our jobs when we don’t feel like it, or given 10.0s for sticking to our workouts, but the effect on our spirits is resolve and discipline.

We strongly suspect, and would probably be right, that we’re capable of more. 

Letting Go x Forever

I should know better by now, more than 20 years later, but I don’t. I still reel at the thought that someone I love more than my own breath will be standing precisely in harm’s way – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

I should be calmer in my heart. I should learnImage from the years of watching her defeat scary inner demons and slay figurative fire-breathing dragons. I should know better than to second-guess her hard won wisdom about her own life. Maybe, somewhere buried in my DNA, I do. But it’s not surfacing quickly enough for my liking. I’m a woman. A mother. I nurture and worry. That’s my natural state.

I tell myself this has nothing to do with letting her go. I’ve already done that. She’s not a child, a teenager or even a reckless adult. If anyone can take care of herself and those in her path, it’s her. In one of those situations where you have to trust someone to lead you through the jungle blindfolded, she’s the one I would trust to lead me. She would fend off snakes, native tribes and gorillas with swoops of courage, and I would make it safely to the other side – all because of her moxie. I want her beside me in earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and the apocalypse. No one else I know has her skills. No one.

Having said all that, I’m her mom. And she’s going to jump on a bicycle and ride it for many hundreds of miles and do what she’s been longing and planning to do for years. And suddenly I feel like she’s 16 again and calling to tell me she’s hitchhiking to San Francisco and will be in touch when she can (and in case you’re wondering, that really happened).

The questions pour out of my heart and onto the page: Why can’t I just have her safely by my side forever? Why do things have to get all tangled up and people make decisions that might hurt them? Why does someone living out a dream have to be so hard to watch? I know the answers. Because when you allow yourself to love someone, that’s what happens. What also happens is, if you want someone to stay in your life, you don’t fight it.

So, today when I mused about her upcoming trip the tears came hot and fast even though I’ve known about this adventure for months. It has nothing to do with missing her for the weeks she’s away (I don’t want to talk about that). It’s about these babies of mine living their own lives. When will this whole mommy merry-go-round stop? Here’s the answer: Never. And that’s why it really IS about letting go, times infinity.

I adore every socks-knitting, tattooed, Sherlock-loving, animal-mommying, pierced, brilliant blue-eyed, scrunched up nose, tip-toe when she walks, long wavy hair, piano playing, accordion shredding, pig-tail wearing, costume making, real food eating, techno music passionate, calculated risk taking, songwriting, pie making, life-gobbling, clear soprano part of her.

It’s the adoration, the trusting her at any cost, that makes this bearable. So for those reasons I will be her cheerleader. I will banish choking doubt and fear.

I will also be on the next plane if she needs me for any reason.

Lessons From A Five-Year-Old

Published in the Ferndale Record, January 29, 2014

In what could be considered a bold move, a five-year-old at school approached me after I’d bandaged her finger. “Maybe someday, when my parents are dead and I’m grown up, you and I can be friends.”

The whole “parents are dead” thing made me cringe a little, but then I remembered the mind of a child, and the unusually active and fertile mind of this particular child, and instead of recoiling, or explaining age differences and logistics, I smiled and said “OK.”

Then she said, “Maybe we can have a sleepover.” Again, my mind gravitated to that grown-up place of stark reality, but I quickly found my inner kindergartner and said, “Maybe we can.” She closed her eyes, hugged me tight and ran to class.

The itty bitty ones live life, play and love hard until someone or something, completes the siphoning of his or her original spirit – and they eventually morph into what others think they should be, not who they really are. It’s hard to watch.

In adult land, we normally don’t say it right out loud. There’s a kind of dance, some posturing, image to consider. And it’s true, asking someone – even a platonic friend you like a lot, to have a sleepover is well, kind of odd.

I guess the question is: Should it be? Is it really so socially askew to say what we’re thinking, especially if it’s kind, complimentary or loving?

I read a book once about a gutsy woman who decided to “never suppress a generous thought.” I get what she meant, and I think that’s what children and truly genuine people already do. No hating or bashing allowed. Go with the good stuff.

It’s like giving kudos to your best friend on her new haircut because you really love it and it doesn’t even occur to you that this declaration might make your own hair any less stunning. Or, maybe telling a coworker that you saw a thing he did when he handled a tricky situation with grace, without being afraid this compliment will make you sound like a doofus.

If we get over ourselves, our egos and insecurities, handing out generosity makes us feel great, and doesn’t diminish who we are, but connects us to the people around us, and the world in general. We become shareholders in a giant community of givers, and the perks are endless.

Can we really learn all that from a five-year-old? That, and more. One day as she was leaving the school, my pure and vocal little friend began gushing to everyone. “I love you lunch lady! I love you office lady!”  No one thought this was too much or inappropriate. It was simply a manifestation of who she is.

People sometimes back away when others emote. Most of us have been in a room dripping with emotion, and it made us squirm. But choosing to forego deep feeling exacts a price on our capacity for happiness. We don’t have to express it like a child might, but if we want the accompanying joy, express we must.

Someone once said “Everything I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.”  I would argue it happens before that.