Friday, November 17, 2017

To Our Students, the Ones Who Matter The Most: A Reminder from Jason Reynolds

yes, I took a paparazzi photo
of Jason Reynolds. Wouldn't you?
Jason Reynolds has swagger. He's charming, handsome and charismatic. He has cool hair, nerdy-chic clothes, and an aloofness that's appealing (yes, I have a nerd crush. Get over it).

But what really stands out about Jason Reynolds is that he tells the truth.

During a round-table discussion at the Nerdy Book Club gathering during the NCTE Annual Conference, Jason spent 12 minutes talking to teachers (and four high school boys who were sitting at our table) about how to empower students. He was funny and smart. He talked about how important it is for teachers to connect with students and to tell the truth.

At the end of the 12 minutes, as Jason got up to move to the next round-table round, one of the high school boys leaned in. "Were you a good student?" he asked around a smile.

"Nope," Jason said; he didn't even hesitate. "Are you?"

"Nope." The kid laughed, a blush creeping across his face. "I feel like I'm a lot like you."

"I wasn't a good student. But I could have been," Jason stopped moving and looked right at the kid. "So I'm not going to let you off the hook. Because you can be great too." The young man nodded as Jason started to move away from our table. Jason continued: "Excellence is a habit."

And then he was gone, off to talk to the next set of teachers.

For the next 30 minutes I watched this young man track Jason around the huge ballroom. He leaned in to hear Jason's words when Jason was nearby. At one point, he covered one ear to block out the noise and he tilted his head to hear as much as he could from Reynolds. He soaked up his words.

At the end of the session, I watched Jason carve out space for these young men. As teachers lined up to meet Jason, he homed in on the kids, taking pictures, shaking their hands, making eye contact.

During our round table, Jason had issued a challenge to teachers. He reminded us to be humble, to find ways to connect with kids. He told us that his books are really thank you notes to kids, to all they bring to life. He nudged us to tell the truth and to really see our students.

And then he showed us how to do this. He told the truth. And in return, the kids in the room, the ones who matter the most, responded.

I'm so grateful to have witnessed this powerful transaction and to be reminded of why we teach. I'm tucking this moment into my teacher heart, to carry it back to our classrooms and to our students, to the ones who matter the most.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Go Play!

I banished the kids outside on Saturday. They'd been on their tablets for too long, faces stuck in Youtube. As soon as they unplugged, the complaining started.

Mom? I'm bored.
Mom? What should I do?
Mom? I don't know what to play.

I closed the sliding door in their face and told them, "Go. Play."

As I cleaned the kitchen, I happened to glance out the window into our backyard. My ten-year-old twins Jacob and Emma were lying in the hammock. With notebooks and pencils! They were talking and writing and talking some more.

Well, you know this English teacher mama was just so pleased. I imagined the stories they were creating. Probably making heart maps, right? Or maybe they were writing poems about the neighbor's dog, or, you know, Nature. Or maybe they were sketching, and then they were going to write about those sketches later.

I smiled to myself, so proud that getting them to unplug had led to this development. About 15 minutes later they migrated to the back porch. I headed out there with my book and peeked over Emma's shoulder to see what was in the notebook.

What I saw had me rolling my eyes.

It said: Ideas for U Tube Vids

Ugh. What?  That is it. We're getting rid of the tablets. I'm putting them into Luddite training. They are so addicted to those screens. 

While this internal rant was happening, I had an ear cocked to their conversation. Suddenly, I realized that my inner monologue needed to shut up and listen. Because they were being smart. Smarter than I gave them credit for.

"Oh, we should do one of those videos where we tell people they can ask us questions in the comments. Those are always funny," Emma said, adding it to her list in her notebook.

Jacob nodded, adding "But nothing too personal." He wrote the idea in his notebook too. They had a handful of possibilities on their list, many based on things they enjoyed watching.

On the next page, they were generating a list of the things they didn't like about Youtube. Here they were noting features of Youtube, and limitations that annoy them. They were doing such a close reading of Youtube as a genre, and that list was informing how they might make their own channel and generate content.

As I watched them write ideas in their notebooks I realized that this is what I hope for our writers, for the creators in our classrooms. My kids were immersed in mentor texts, considering audience and purpose and tone. They were making choices about form and content and purpose.

They were creating. On their own.

I was embarrassed to think about how my first instinct when watching them out of the window was to ascribe to them the kind of writing I like to do, the writing I'm good at. I was disappointed that I'd been so quick to dismiss their ideas when I first heard them talking.

I realized too that my kids first chafed at the idea of having to figure something out on their own. They wanted me to give them the answers, to direct their thinking. But what they ended coming up with was so much more genuine and engaging than anything I could have thought of.

And as I reflected on my reactions as a parent, I shifted to think about myself as a teacher. How often do I do this in my own classrooms?

As I move into a new school year, this is my goal. I'm a literacy coach now and in this role I'm supporting other teachers reflect and plan and grow. I want to get students doing more of this in our classrooms, not just in backyards and playgrounds and maker-spaces. I want to give kids time to mess around. To think about the world they live in and consider ways in which they can contribute to the conversations they're already a part of. I want students to make choices about topics, about genre, about craft, about delivery. I want to empower them to see themselves not just as consumers, but also creators.

And then I want us to get out of the way.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Love Letter to OWP

I'm sitting in my soon-to-be-someone-else's office today working while my 10-year old twins are at Youth Writing Camp. That feels like a full-circle kind of thing, since I started working at the Ohio Writing Project right after those big kids were born, when I needed still to be connected to education.

And so I came home, back to the place where I learned how to be a teacher. To the place where really, I grew up. To where I learned to see myself as an Educator, a Writer, a Collaborator, a Researcher. Back to the place that taught me to take risks, and honored my voice and path.

I came back to OWP. And now, as I take a step away from my role here to try something new, I can't help but think of all the ways this house has built me.

OWP: Where We're From

We are from the first day of class, pulling desks into U-shapes,
making name tags and introductions,
pulling out Writer's Notebooks, waiting to be filled.

We are from writing beside students, reading with them,
making our learning visible,
unpacking what we do every step of the way.

We are from exit slips and one-word notecards,
from Heart Maps and quickwrites,
from finding our querencia and taking Writer's Dates.

We are from Mary Fuller and Max Morenberg,
visionaries, lighthouses, nudgers,
whose long gone voices I hear echoing through us all.

We are from the teachers who led the way --
Romano and Daiker, Holly and Jean,
Linda and Beth and Helane,
We are from Monica: the heartbeat of it all.

We are from Anderson and Kittle,
from Marchetti and Heard,
Lyon, Lane and Glover.
From Fletcher and Wilhelm,
all who came to our home, filling our toolboxes.

We are from
skype chats and twitter chats,
a library brimming with resources
with too many authors to list,
whose shoulders are broad and strong.

We are from the words on the page,
the whispers in the conferences,
the digital posts and the post-it notes.
We are from notes after every single presentation,
slips of treasure.

We are from mentor texts, grammar lessons,
and too many ideas to ever actually implement.
We are from reflection, and action research ,
from "yeah-buts" and "you should write about that".

We are from summers spent driving the long roads to Oxford,
and walks to the Duck Pond.
We are from Bachelor Hall and the VOA,
from weekend workshops and Saturday treasures.
We are from classrooms and listservs,
and tweets and hugs.

We are from being teachers,
to teachers who write,
to writers who teach.

* with many thanks to George Ella Lyon, one of my first writing mentors,
in a looooooong line of mentors I've met since 2001.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Grandma Wolford

Marge and Justin
My Grandma Wolford passed away this morning. She was 92, and lived a wonderful life, so it's an odd mixture of sadness and pain for my dad, but relief for Grandma that I feel this morning.

She was a force of nature, that Marge. She had lots of opinions and wasn't quiet about them. She was also quite charming and loved to meet new people.

Marge loved to sing and would hum the tune of anything, even the pop songs on the radio. She loved my Grandpa Justin for her whole life. Their picture still hangs on the wall of her room at the Judson Palmer home and that is how they'll look in my memory for the rest of my life. When they were young Grandma loved to go dancing and I have always loved those pictures of them cutting a rug.

Grandma Marge, Uncle Arthur, Aunt Patty
Grandma grew up in the country with her Norwegian mom, farmer dad and her two sisters and brother. When the surviving siblings and all of their off-spring are in a room together, the memories of life on a farm flow. It was a different time and it always reminds me how important it is to preserve those memories.

My favorite memories of Grandma involve swimming at her house. She and my grandpa had an awesome pool, screened in, with a slide and a volleyball net. We spent most of our early childhood swimming at that house. I learned how to swim there when my dad threw me in the deep end. Emily lost a tooth in the shallow end. We'd watch Uncle Kevin and his friends in awe as they played volleyball and were just cool.

Grandma was never a very good gift-giver (one year I got shoelaces. Another Bible stories on VHS...even though we didn't have a VCR yet). But when our baby sister Katie was born, she took Emily and I to the mall and let us pick out Cabbage Patch dolls. She also let us get our ears pierced and it was one of the most special days of my 10-year-old life.

Grandma always had a collection of books for us to read (both my grandmothers were awesome at this). She ordered the Sweet Pickles series to keep at her house and we wore those books out. There was a wooden bookshelf in the guest room and that was always the first place I would go when we visited.

Grandma also loved to read, the steamier the romance novel, the better. I remember driving to Florida with her one year when I was 12 and she had a huge bag of books in the backseat. I began to pilfer her stash and I think I might have become a woman on that trip. I definitely learned some things about heaving bosoms and ripping bodices from Grandma's stash of books.

My Aunt Tari was with Grandma when it happened. My hometown's hospital plays a lullaby chime every time a baby is born and within a few minutes of Marge slipping away, Tari heard the lullaby: a reminder of the cycle of life, in all its pain and beauty and fullness. 

I can picture Marge right now, humming that lullaby and finally dancing with Grandpa Justin.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Taking a Walk With a Sea Lion

A sea lion followed me this morning.
Or maybe I followed him.
We traveled parallel paths,
him playing in the waves,
me dipping my toes in the surf.
We moved together for half a mile,
maybe more.

I first saw him lying in the sand,
ahead of me,
as if maybe he was waiting.
As I got closer,
he scooched back into the ocean,
where he belonged.

I'm also scooching home,
back where I belong.

But, first, I'll take a walk with a sea lion.

Friday, March 31, 2017

3.31.17 #sol17

No rooms at the inns,
Still miles to go.
How did we not make a reservation?

We stock up on Mt. Dew,
Put the kids to bed in the van.
We decide to drive through the night.

We'll end the trip how we started,
At 3 am.
Yawning, cramped necks, but grateful.

So I blog on my phone (it's the last day! I can't miss!)
Then I'll get some sleep,
Readying for my shift in the drivers seat.

And tomorrow, maybe, I'll write about the adventure.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

3.30.17 #sol17 Six Word Memoirs: Vacation

Tonight is the last night of our week vacation in Florida. We head home tomorrow and while I'm so sad, I'm ready to be home (now if only we could skip the 15 hour drive...). In reflecting on our trip, I decided to write about our time using the six word memoir, one of my favorite types of writing. 

Six Word Memoirs About Florida 2017: 

Lazy mornings. Full days. Tired feet.

Siblings bond, fight, make up. Repeat.

Take a video! No. Make memories.

Marveling at good fortune. Blessings abound.

Wrestling with conscience about Sea World.

First half: delicious. Second half: fast.

Restored, recharged, reconnected. Ready for home.

Trying to create candids; best spontaneous.

See the wonder in their eyes.

So very tired. So much laundry.

Letters in sky sum it up.

Today at the pool someone had hired a sky writer to write Thank U.
Captures how I'm feeling tonight. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

3.29.17 #sol17 To the Guys at the Table Next to Us...

Dear Guys at the Table Next to Us,

I saw your face as you watched the women walk past. I noticed the ladies too. I know. They were fat. Like, really fat.

They were fat, and their shorts were short. They were showing a lot of flesh, overflowing their waistlines, their shirtsleeves.

I tried not to judge their bodies -- I know they probably do enough of that on their own (or maybe not, and that would be freaking awesome). I reminded myself how hard it is to be overweight in this world. To wear shorts. To wear a bathing suit in public. I'm a little overweight and I dread having to wear a bathing suit. They were a lot overweight, and so I presumed (maybe incorrectly) that it's just freaking hard.

And then I saw your faces. Your rude, disgusting faces. You, the goateed one, saw them first. You grimaced and then nudged your buddy. "Look at that," you said, just like you probably do when you see a hot girl, but the sneer on your face made your connotation clear.

Your buddy turned around, noticed them walking away, and he shook his head. Like he had the right to judge these women and their bodies. Shook his head as if to say, "what are they doing here?"

I felt white hot anger. I felt protective of these women, even though I couldn't pick them out of a crowd. How dare you?

And then I noticed: your daughters sitting next to you. Young women. Tiny bodies, not yet formed. They chattered away, seemingly impervious to what just happened, but I know they soaked it in, because that's what our kids do. They are watching us always. Is this the world you want for your daughters? A world where men feel entitled to comment on their bodies?

Stop doing that.

Stop telling women how they should look in order to make you happy.

Stop it.
Right now.


That curvy chick at the table next shooting you daggers whose husband didn't want her to start a fight


I wanted to march my curvy ass over there and say something. But what? What could I have said that would have made a difference? And if I'm being honest, I felt self-conscious. What would they say about my body? But, I've been thinking about it all day long. I wish I had stood up for those women, for all of us.

I'm tired of being silent to be polite. I'm tired of watching men make judgements about our bodies, about our clothes, about our beings. And I'm tired of us doing it to each other too, if I'm being honest.


We must stand up and speak.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

3.28.17 #sol17 Where I'm From: Florida edition

From the age of 3-11, my family lived in Ft. Myers, FL until we moved back to Ohio. I hadn't been back to Florida until the last few years when my own family began vacationing in Orlando. I am always amazed at how much comes back to me each time we're here.  So tonight I wrote one of my favorite kind of poems, inspired by George Ella Lyon, with that childhood Florida lens in mind. 

Where I'm From...

I am from chlorine and swimming pools.
From sunsets on the beach and coquina shells,
shades of orange, yellow and purple
color my memory.

I am from screened-in porches, a lanai, if you please.
From Deep Dark Daring Woods and forts in the palmetto leaves.
I am from wild fires and shuttle launches,
PE outside,
the San Carlos Gators.

I am from alligator safety in school
and manatee awareness pep rallies.
From summers spent inside in air conditioning
and winters spent at the beach.

I am from french braids and rented VCRs,
all in a house on stilts.
I am from long driveways where
walking catfish and garter snakes made an appearance.

I am from golf courses
where Emily would collect stray balls,
and alligators would invade the lakes.
I am from tree houses,
and club houses,
and hideouts in the woods.

I am from these moments,
ones that feel like another life.
Until I'm back,
and see the flowers and the shrubs,
hear the music of the water,
feel the warmth of the sun,

and know I'm home.

Monday, March 27, 2017

3.27.17 #sol17 Swimming in Books

For anyone who worries that people don't read anymore, I encourage you to spend some time at a pool. I was shocked and inspired to realize that there are books everywhere. I saw people of every age reading. From Louis L'amour to Hillbilly Elegy to Liane Moriarity to steamy romance novels: there were books in every corner. There were books from the library, from the book exchange table, and from home. There were tattered copies and new copies.

It felt like everyone was reading.

That made my teacher heart so happy. I wanted to take pictures. But, I didn't want to be creepy, so I took mental pictures instead.

My favorite moment was when my son and a friend sat at our chairs and instead of swimming, had a spirited discussion about characters from a series they're both reading: Warriors by Erin Hunter. They had so much to say about these books; they had a smart, genuine conversation that was basically what every teacher wants students to do when analyzing characters. And later this afternoon, when Jacob shared with his friend that he only had 20 pages left, she cheered.

What is this beautiful world we live in?

And how do we figure out a way to create this for students? What is it that has all these people reading?

It goes back to the elements that anchor my teaching: time and choice.

At the pool, we all have time to read. And we get to make choices about what we we want to read, whether it's People magazine or the amazing Matt de la Pena book The Living that I devoured in one day.

And so I want our classrooms to be more like the pool. It's true that we have responsibilities and duties and other things to accomplish, but I want our students to swim in words the way people do at the pool.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

3.26.17 #sol17 Nature Walk

Today I write about a real slice of life: 15 minutes in my day during Spring Break. 

We took about 10 minutes to take a nature walk today. The kids didn't want to do it, but they never do. I knew, though, as soon as I saw the path headed away from our resort, that there would be something good back there. And I love it when I'm right!

a rare sight: the boys getting along
and talking nicely to each other.

Jacob pointed out this bird. We're not sure what it was, but we loved watching it stalk the fish.

This isn't a very clear picture, but there was an egret just hanging out in this marsh.
He never moved, never fished, never wavered. 

After looking down into the nature for so  long, I looked up, and only in Orlando
would there then be a magical hot air balloon floating in the sky! 

As we headed back to our condo, this sweet girl decided she'd pose for some pictures.
I just love her sweet smile. 

Justin, with his Pikachu, of course.

We thought we'd spotted an otter or a seal or a something when we were at the marsh. And sure enough, once we got back to our condo, there were four otters playing in the pond behind our condo, which is adjacent to the marsh. Throughout the day today we watched and listened to the otter playing. And like a teacher, I made my kids do a question blitz about otters and then research. We learned a lot!
This one I think I'll get framed. The four of us watching who knows what.
I love the way our shadows capture us.
I only wish Greg had been there too. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

3.25.17 #sol17 Thankful Thieving

I think I've been living under a rock. I had never heard of Austin Kleon until last week. Now suddenly he's everywhere. And I just found out that he once attended the university where I now work (is that serendipitous? I just finished reading Amy Krouse Rosenthal's book Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal and I love what she wrote about those kind moments). I followed him on Twitter and as I'm reading through his website, I realize that I have heard people referencing his work for a while, but I'd never spent any time with it. Well, I just ordered all three of his books. And, thanks to Tricia Ebarvia's blog post from a few days ago, I'm stealing one of his writing prompts. 

Thanks to Emma, Jacob and Justin,
who taught me how to live in the moment.

Thanks to Greg,
who taught me about real love when he didn't get mad at me when I told him
I forgot my driver's license five minutes before we arrived at the Dayton airport.

Thanks to Emily,
who taught me how to cover my tracks, how to forgive, how to be a sister.

Thanks to Katie,
who taught me how to create an alliance, how to clean up puke, how to keep on pushing.

Thanks to Mr. McGonnell,
who taught me how to meet a deadline,
how to write a lead, and how to get tickets for Broadway shows.

Thanks to Mrs. Mathern,
who taught me how to be proud of my writing, and how to nurture original thinking.

Thanks to Barry Roth who taught me how to write a thesis statement,
and how to read Shakespeare. And how to not cry when things get hard.

Thanks to Tom Romano,
who taught me how to open doors.

Thanks to Dad,
who taught me how to fly a kite,
and throw a baseball,
and drive a car,
and cuss.
And how to love fiercely.

Thanks to Mom,
who taught me how to make green bean casserole.
And everything I know about being a mom, a wife, a woman: a human being.

Friday, March 24, 2017

3.24.17 #sol17 Road Trip: the Mommy Version

Holy cow. Road trips with 9 year old twins and a 7 year old is no joke. Instead of playing my childhood road trip game of 20 Questions, I feel like I just spent a day playing 20 Million Questions.

"Can we talk yet?"

No. It's 6:30 a.m. There is no talking until the sun comes up. 

"How much longer?"

Can you seriously not tell time? We have HOURS to go.

"Can I have a pop tart?"

Another one?

"What other movies did we bring?"

You already forgot?

"Can you turn the heat up/down; air up/down; fan on?"

Why do these vans not come with personalized temperature gauges?

"Can we stop for the bathroom?"

Seriously? We stopped 30 minutes ago. How can you possibly have to go again?

"Can you turn the radio up/down/off?"

Can we just all agree to silence?

"I know you said we had an hour to go. So how much longer now?"

58 minutes.

We were on the road to Florida by 3:30 am today. The kids slept until about 6:30. After that, all bets were off. Overall, they were great during the 15 hour drive. They hardly fought. Nobody spilled anything in the new van. We made it safely.


If I had to answer one more question...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

3.21.17 #sol17

Today I try out an "Around" writing about my sister Katie. It's a style that I was introduced to at the Ohio Writing Project's 4-week Writing class. It was always one of our most favorite ways to write. 

Around 1986, a blue-eyed beauty, Kathryn Norine, rounded out the Wolford girls.

She was calm and clear-eyed. She loved her sisters and her parents, and smiled all the time. Because her sisters were 10 and 7 years older than her, she got lots of snuggles and hugs. She was a real life Cabbage Patch doll.

Around 1990, Katie carried her Teddy everywhere and loved playing Barbies.

Katie has keeps us all young. She brings light and life into every room. My friends loved to come to our house and play with her because it allowed all of us to recapture a little slice of our childhood, which was still visible in our rearview mirrors. Even when she was six, she could play with anyone -- the neighbor kids, her sisters, her cousins. She has always been the great unifier.

Around 1994, Katie sat the top of the stairs, through she was supposed to be in bed, listening to all the fun she thought she was missing.

As the youngest, Katie always felt like she was missing out on the action. She usually was. Though she also got to experience things with our parents that we didn't. She went to play with mom, watched baseball with dad. She knew too much too soon; how could you not when you have two teenage sisters? She was the first in her friend group to find out lots of secrets and would often educate her girlfriends. Katie heard the refrain, "Do NOT repeat this at school" pretty often.

Around 2007 Katie became an Aunt Katie.

This was a role Katie was born for. She's a tree climber, a book reader, a song singer, an Uno player. She loves her niece and nephews and  shows them how to be good people. She has sleepovers in the basement, plays games when everyone else is sick of it, and makes them follow the rules.

Around 2009 Katie wandered off the path.

These things happen. And they're often the events that make us stronger and that has been true for Katie. That's her story to tell, not mine, but I have watched her with worry, with trepidation, with frustration and now with pride as she has found her map and righted her course in the last few years.

Around 2017, Katie will cross a stage, take her diploma and enter into a legacy of teachers. She will be amazing.

Katie was a born teacher. Kids are drawn to her. She looks them in the eye, holds them to high standards, and really listens to them. Her future classroom will be a place of light and love and learning.

My sister Katie is one of the most beautiful people I know. She lights up a room and makes everyone feel happier for being around her. She's funny and kind. She completes our family and makes us all better people. And she's so much fun to be around.

Monday, March 20, 2017

3.20.17 #sol17 Writer's Group

I should be at my writer's group right now. My friends Holly, Megan, Jill, Val and I are in a writer's group. Unfortunately Greg had a meeting tonight, so I had to miss. And I'm missing them so much. So I thought I'd write about them.

Our writing group has met exactly once. We didn't write at all. We laughed and shared. We caught up and talked about writing (a little bit anyway). We ate and drank. We communed.

And that community has been so powerful. It motivated me to actually start this blog challenge. Holly has been slicing for a few years now, and I always read her posts. An experience that Megan had earlier this year had me thinking on my drive home about a piece she should write; I was so excited I texted her as soon as I got home. And getting to spend time facilitating professional development with Jill, Val and Holly had me thinking about all kinds of smart writing.

So you see, though we didn't officially share writing during our group, we did the work of building a community. We're doing the work of writers -- thinking, sharing, collaborating, rehearsing. And writing.

This blog challenge has offered the same for me. It has been amazing to be part of a community of writers. Getting comments on posts is wonderful, but even without those comments, I'm feeling so empowered by seeing everyone else's posts. I'm loving the generative power of reading each other's works.

An unexpected surprise has been the feedback from folks outside the challenge. Friends have sent me messages about their own experiences that relate to something they read in my blog. Or family members reach out to affirm something I've written. My mom even texted me the other day because she thought of some topics.

Knowing that there are actual people reading my writing has reminded me how important it is to participate in a community. To be held accountable. To have a real purpose. To engage in our own learning.

In my work, I spend time with lots of different kinds of students: teachers in graduate school, undegraduates as well as young students. I want to find ways to create the same space for student writers. I want to do more than just school writing. I want to help them find a community.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

3.19.17 #sol17 Justin's Snuggles

"Mama, can you snuggle?" My 7 year-old hardly ever calls me Mama anymore, so even though I'm tired, and even though I still have work to do tonight, and even though I am done mom-ing for today, I take a deep breath and I snuggle.

I lie next to his little body in his narrow twin bed. He's surrounded by a menagerie of stuffed animals. There's Puppy H. and Ghostie, Piggie and Froggy. The newest addition to the collection, Pikachu, is nestled in his arms. His most beloved Wormy is never too far. Wormy's still the one we find in his arms in the middle of the night.

He turns on his side, eye to eye with me. I wrap my arm around his body, feeling his belly rise and fall with his breath. He tangles his feet around my legs. I love the smell of him. It's a mixture of boy and outside and toothpaste (sometimes). Who knows what we talk about it those moments: dogs, school, Pokemon, his brother, Disney. Sometimes we barely talk at all (although anyone who knows Justin knows that's not typical. This kid can talk).

After a few minutes, I tell him, "Okay, Mister, I love you." He usually says "One more minute." I relent. Of course. After half a minute, I wrap it up.

Our newest routine:
"I love you the most," Justin tells me, kneeling on his mattress and wrapping his arms tightly around my neck.

"I love you most-er."

"I love you the most-est, most-est, most-est." He laughs at the silliness. And I pretend to groan, outdone in the superlative game. Every night it's the same dance.

I leave his room, head downstairs and go about my evening.

Justin is my third child, the baby of our family. I used to complain about how my youngest sister got away with more, or was treated differently. Now I realize that with your youngest, you just hang on a little tighter.

He won't always be our baby. And honestly, he's not my baby anymore. He's transforming into this boy, this big kid right before my eyes. But someday soon he'll be too big to snuggle. He won't want me to lie next to him anymore. He won't place his chubby hands on my cheeks. He won't make up silly games to keep me next to him for just one more minute.

And since I am not the mother in that ridiculous Love You Forever book (I know this book evokes strong opinions in people, but seriously, c'mon. She carries a ladder to his house? If my mother-in-law did that, we'd have a real problem.), I know that there will be a moment when I have to just let him go.

But, while I can, I'll take a breath, I'll snuggle. I'll try to slow down the moment.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

3.18.17 #sol17 Currently

Inspired by Jen I thought I'd try the "Currently" structure today too. I thought about what I'm currently doing literally as well as things that are happening in my life right now.
Watching:  Greg and Jacob watch Jurassic Park together for the first time; Sneaky Pete on Amazon Prime; Goldbergs with my kiddos (they're finally at an age where I feel like we can watch sitcoms together). Survivor; this is one of the few shows Greg will actually sit down and watch with me. 
Listening:  to the Missing Richard Simmons podcasts; Emma and her friend making musically videos in the basement; Jacob making his little tic sound that is driving me totally nuts.
Appreciating: that I was able to sleep until 9:45 this morning (that hasn't happened in YEARS!); that Greg's spring break started today; that I have a husband who likes to grocery shop; in-laws who will drive 5 hours to come stay with our kids; that I can take Emma shopping and buy her new clothes, even if she hates shopping.
Loving: connecting with my girlfriends over coffee, or lunch, or a beer, or at exercise class. And that I got to do all of those things this week - finally; lazy days; baseball season; soccer season; Justin in his karate uniform.
Eating:  too much. trying to eat more greens and less sugar. Why can't vegetable taste as good as sugar does?
Drinking:  Dt. Pepsi. Miller Light. Water. In that order. I'm working on reversing the order. 
Wishing:  I didn't have to try on bathing suits tomorrow. That I still had my 30 year old self's metabolism; that I could be more comfortable in the skin I'm in now.
Planning:  to see Hamilton this week; to go to Florida soon; where our extended family will go for our annual Father's Day trip; how to lose 20 lbs by the time we get to Florida on Friday (making chocolate chip cookies tonight is probably the first step in all the diet books, right?). 
Reading:  texts from my sisters and mom; slice blog posts, Velva Jean Learns to Drive; getting ready to read The Hate U Give; tweets, mostly about teaching and Trump.

Friday, March 17, 2017

3.17.17 #sol17 Pool Sneaking

"Mom! We are going to get ARRESTED!" I hissed from the shadows.

"Oh, c'mon, Ang. Just get in here," my mom whisper-laughed.

I was eight. My mom was 28. It was a warm summer night in Florida and we were swimming in a pool, one of my favorite things to do. There was just one catch.

It wasn't our pool.

My mom, a fearless free-spirit, would pair up with her best friend Lola and lead us on so many adventures. I, the oldest, rule-following daughter, hated these adventures. They made me nervous and reckless.

I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Lola and my mom were young moms together in Ft. Myers, FL, before it became the place where everybody's grandparents spend the winter. Between the two of them, they had four daughters, me the oldest. Both of their husbands worked hard, long hours and so these two young women were left to figure out how to entertain us all in a place not yet reached by cable tv.

Neither family had much money at the time, and my mom reminisces that there were plenty of days when she and Lola were digging for change in their couch cushions to wrangle enough gas money to make it to the beach for the day.

Some evenings we'd go to the beach, watch the sunset, then sneak into hotel pools at night, sliding into the pools from the corners, from the shadows. These were the days when pools on the beach were fenced in and it was just a matter of opening a gate to get in. So Lola and my mom, bold as brass, would head on in. I don't think they were ever told to leave. Really, who cares about two women and their gaggle of kids?

But I didn't know that at the time. I remember never allowing myself the satisfaction of full submersion. I'd hide off in the shadows with only my feet in the water. I would watch my sister and my mom splashing quietly around, laughing. I'd feel simultaneously jealous and judgmental of their recklessness.

Other times we'd cruise the neighborhood looking for model homes that had a pool in the backyard. On those evenings, Lola would park her car (in the driveway? on a side street?) and we'd head out back. On these visits we had to be so quiet. The risk level just about sent me over the edge. We'd take a quick dip, just long enough to cool off, before we'd race back to the car and head home.

At the time I thought I had the craziest mom in the world. She exasperated me. Now, though, while I still think I had the craziest mom in the world, I find myself trying to recreate her sense of adventure with my own kids. While we never do anything as daring as sneaking into pools, I do try to instill a sense of wonder in our lives. That feel of magic and adventure defines my childhood and is one of the best gifts my mom gave us.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3.16.17 #sol17 Podcasts

I spent a LOT of time in my car going from meeting to meeting today (I think I drove close to 120 miles today). And I listened to lots of podcasts. I really love podcasts. With my work, I end up spending a good bit of time in my car, so podcasts are a perfect way to make the time go quicker. In fact, I look forward to my commute so I can catch up on podcasts.

What's on my list now?

This American Life: I have loved this program since I was 23 years old when I first heard it on a drive back from Athens, OH. It was a piece by David Sedaris about trying to speak French and I laughed so hard I was crying.

You Made It Weird: Pete Holmes is one of my favorite comedians. His podcast is epically long and meandering and I love it. He interviews all kinds of people, but my favorites are when he interviews other comedians. He can be a little talk-y on these, but I enjoy him. Today's podcast with Phoebe Robinson was one of the best in a while.

Nerdist: Chris Hardwick is a great interviewer. Sometimes the people he interviews are boring, so I skip those, but sometimes they're great. And those I like.

Fresh Air: Terry Gross is amazing. She's the best interviewer of all time. Marc Maron's interview of her was amazing.

WTF: Marc Maron is also a great interviewer (okay, yes, there's a theme here. I like comedy and interviews. I love interviews about comedy). I skip him riffing and playing music and just listen to the interviews.

Pod Save America: These guys are former Obama staffers and twice a week they break down the craziness that's going on in the world. They're a little bro-y for me, so I haven't decided if I'm going to subscribe or just listen when I feel like it.

I know there are so many other amazing podcasts. And I realize that I need to add some women and diversity to my list! I did just subscribe to Two Dope Queens today and can't wait to get caught up on their hilarious take on being a woman.

I also want to love teaching podcasts (Penny Kittle's Book Love podcast was a gift to all educators). But I listen while I drive, so I can't take notes.

What do you listen to?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

3.15.17 #sol17 The Important Thing About Emma

Emma was reading through my blog posts yesterday. She loved the one about how her Aunt Emily and I used to fight.

 "I wrote about you," I said. "Do you want to read it?"

I showed her the post I wrote to her. I watched as her eyes scanned the lines. 

"This isn't about me," she said. And I realized that it wasn't. Not really. It was about my hopes for her. My dreams for her. But she didn't recognize herself in the lines. So, today I decided to write about Emma: 

The Important Thing About Emma
* with thanks to Margaret Wise Brown's The Important Book

The important thing about Emma is that she is brave. 
She likes gymnastics, especially the flips. 
She wants to grow her hair longer. 
And she likes french toast sticks for breakfast. 
But the important thing about Emma is that she is brave.

The important thing about Emma is that she is kind.
She's a peacemaker with her friends. 
She loves sleeping 
(and is worried about next year when she has to get on the bus at 7).
She makes videos. 
But the important thing about Emma is that she's kind. 

The important thing about Emma is that she sings. 
She plays soccer, 
and wants to play trumpet, 
and likes doing math. 
But the important thing about Emma is that she sings. 

The important thing about Emma is that she's a sister. 
And a daughter.
And an oldest.
And a grand-daughter, and niece, and cousin. 
But the important thing about Emma is that she's a sister. 

The important thing about Emma is that she is Emma. 
She has brown eyes, and straight hair. 
She has long legs, covered in bruises. 
She just got done with braces (phase 1). 
But the important thing about Emma is that she is Emma. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

3/14/17 #sol17 Greg

My husband is a teacher. He teaches high school math at a small private school where he's also the department chair. And on Honor Council. And on the Long-Range Planning Committee. And the Varsity Golf Coach. So, as you can imagine, his days are full. He's teaching and lesson planning, mentoring and counseling, facilitating and attending meetings.

Greg is an amazing teacher. He helps kids who thought they would never understand math, say that they finally get it. He's gifted at explaining complicated concepts in multiple ways. I have never, in 15 years, heard him utter the words "That kid just doesn't get it." Instead he searches for new ways to frame it, or explain it, or illustrate it. Until it clicks. And it almost always does.

Then the man comes home. And before he can even take off his tie, our kids are on him. "Daddy!" they shout when they hear the garage door open. They want his help with homework, or to show him a trick they learned. Many nights, he makes dinner as I rush off to a meeting. Or, he coaches our kids' sports teams. Or he does private tutoring at the public library.
Greg and Justin on their way
to baseball practice

As soon as we finally get the kids to bed, do you know what my husband, the teacher, does? He puts his workout clothes on and does a 30 minute P-90 X video. Then do you know what he does?

He grades. Or lesson plans. Or makes screencasts. Or revisits his notes. Or returns emails. At the kitchen table. Until it's time to go to bed.

And while this might not be his schedule every night, it's his schedule most nights.

He is the hardest working person I know. If he's lucky, he gets 20 minutes by himself (I'm not counting the exercise time; that hardly seems like it should qualify!). His alone time usually involves hiding in the bathroom playing spider solitaire on his phone.

Nearly every other teacher I know works a similar schedule.

In my own work life, I teach teachers. In this role, I have spent six out of the last eight Saturdays at conferences, and workshops, and classes with teachers who take their own time to continue their professional development. Where in these schedules does Ohio Governor John Kasich imagine these teachers will have time for an internship? (If anything, Kasich should come intern at a school.)

Does Betsy DeVos understand how teachers spend their time? (She should; I tweet at her every time I'm with teachers...) As I watch teachers continue to be undermined in the media by our government officials, I seethe at the characterizations being put forth.

I know Greg's students, their parents and his colleagues appreciate him. I know that we, his family, appreciate him. I just want other people, the people who make choices about teachers and their lives, to appreciate him, and all educators, too.

PS: I know tons of people work really hard (my brother-in-law Joel being one of the other hardest working people I know). And I know lots of my friends' husbands work long hours too. We could all write similar blog posts. But this is my blog, so I get to brag on my husband. (And later I'll write one about how awesome it is that he gets to be the full-time parent for a month in the summer.)

Monday, March 13, 2017

3/13/17 #sol17 It hit me tonight ...

It hit me tonight.

I'm out of ideas.
I've tried writing about chop sticks and church.
I've started a reflection about Emma's flushed cheeks,
made a list of the sweet things my youngest said today,
wrote a scene between Jacob and me.

I've contemplated writing about
snow days,
or snooze alarms
or stand-up comedy.

I've drafted a column about cooking,
an essay about catholicism,
a poem about my husband.

It's not just that I'm out of ideas,
I'm out of steam, stamina.

Even when I have the ideas,
I can't get past the starting,
past the telling.

I'm having a hard time finding
my way to the showing,
to the part where I surprise myself.

Oh, wait.
There it is.

It hit me tonight.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

3/12/17 #sol17 My anti-ode to laundry

What's the opposite of an ode? Because that's how I feel about laundry. Good Lord, I hate laundry. I just finished folding three loads of kids' laundry. And in five days I'll do it again. I'm both horrified by how few pairs of underwear I folded and mystified by how many pairs of pajamas my kids own. How does that happen?

And really, I don't mind hauling the laundry to our basement machines. And while I have a hard time remembering to rotate it (who among us hasn't rewashed a load or two in our day? Though, honestly, the privilege of being able to do that always embarrasses me, so I'm trying to do better.), I don't mind managing the process.

My favorite part of the laundry process is folding. Yes, I love the smell of freshly laundered t-shirts. And if it's still warm from the dryer, it just feels so cozy. Mainly, though, I like folding because it gives me an excuse to sit on the couch and watch tv for a bit. If I could do all chores while streaming Netflix, my house would be so clean.

What I loathe the most about laundry is putting it away. The kids laundry gets shoved into drawers and inevitably I fall down the wormhole of re-organizing the drawers. Which leads to switching out seasons, or pulling out clothes that are too small. And before you know it, I've created an even bigger mess, so I end up shoving it all back in the drawers, making it worse than before.

I hate putting my own laundry away too. In our bedroom we have a huge, comfy chair. Greg calls it my chairdrobe because it's always covered in piles of clothes -- stacks to be put away, clothes I plan on wearing again, scarves that don't fit on the hooks. You know, just the stuff of my life. (I guess Greg has a's just hidden on his side of the bed.)

So, while I'm thankful that we have clothes, and machines to wash them, and closets to hold them, I can't wait for the day when my kids take over this chore (which reminds me...I should start working on that).

Saturday, March 11, 2017

3/11/17 #sol17 How to Live, to Emma

How To Live

with thanks to Charles Webb
and Tom Romano for introducing me to Mr. Webb

to my daughter, Emma, on the cusp of turning 10

Continue to be brave, sweet girl. And vulnerable. Try to name your feelings, and to feel them deeply. Don't be afraid to cry, but try to figure out what your next steps will be while you're crying. Have a favorite blanket, one that you can crawl under and find peace when the rest of the world feels hard. But crawl back out and face it head on.

Hold hands: with your mom, with your best friends, with your future spouse. Let the touch from the people who love you heal you. Eat your vegetables. And the cupcakes. Wear clothes that make you sparkle. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you're beautiful at least once a day. Develop laugh lines. Always throw your head back and let that laugh rip.

Play basketball and soccer and relish the strength of your legs pumping and your heart beating. Keep flipping. Do it more than just gym class as you get older. Get your nose pierced, or your ears or even your belly button. I'd really prefer you not get a tattoo. So if you do, make it small and secret.

Live on your own. Carry your groceries up a few flight of stairs. Learn how to check your oil and tire pressure. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Have the kinds of friends who will help you move. Go to a beautiful movie by yourself at least once. Eat dinner in a restaurant while reading a book. Be your own best company.

Watch bad tv, read trashy magazines, read smart books. Go to church, wherever that church may be -- the woods, the ocean, the building. Seek out friendships that fill your soul. When relationships feel like too much work, tap out. Except marriage. That work can be the most beautiful work of your life.

Stand up for yourself. Use your words as weapons, and your fists if you have to. Don't ever let anyone make you feel like you don't deserve to take up space. Fill a room with your sparkle and your smarts. Ask questions. Listen. Reflect. Speak out every time.

Stand up for what you know is right. Sometimes that's hard and feels scary. So take a breath and try to figure out your center of gravity. Walk the walk. If you're embarrassed to bring a partner home, let that tell you something, and listen to it. Maybe not at first, but eventually.

Remember from where you came, my girl. Call your mom. Take care of your brothers and let them take care of you. Know that you are known and loved and seen. You take up space in this world, and the universe is better because you exist.

Friday, March 10, 2017

3/10/17 #sol17 Things My Feet Have Touched Today

Things My Feet Have Touched Today

The cold tile of my hotel bathroom.
The sidewalks of Pasadena.
The restroom of an El Taco Loco as the Uber driver had to make a pit stop.
The lush, green carpet of Janet's backyard,
the leaves from the avocado tree under my feet.
Venice Beach.

the long security line where I met Theo Vonn
(of Road Rules fame. "Is your name Theo?" I leaned over and asked.
He grinned, said yes.
After telling him I liked his podcast (the fan-girl line of the aughts?)
he asked where I was from. He was headed to New Orleans for his birthday.
So much we can learn about each other in just a few words.
He was lovely and sweet.
And made me feel simultaneously old and like a school girl.)

The security floor as I stood in my barefeet
and received a pat down that was the most action I've seen in days.

The bathroom tile at CVG
where I changed from flip-flops
to flats so as to guard my toes agains the cold.

Now, home. Where they belong.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

3/9/17 #sol17 Jacob's voicemail

"Hi, Mom. It's Jacob. Um, so this morning, I had an asthma attack and a panic attack."

These are the words I heard on my voicemail tonight from my 9 year old son. I'm in California for work. He's in Ohio. I am heartbroken that I'm not with him.

Immediately, I called my husband. "Tell me everything," I demanded.

It turns out that our boy woke up this morning and was congested. So congested in fact, that he felt like he had something in his throat that he couldn't get out.  His body sent him into a coughing fit, trying to dislodge the phlegm. That coughing somehow sent him into a "what if" spiral that mostly focused on "what if I'm drowning like that commercial warned that sometimes people can drown from fluid in their lungs and what if that's happening to me and what if, what if, what if..."

My husband tried to calm him down, tried to soothe him. He put him in the bathroom and ran a steamy shower. He tried to reason with him. He tried to talk him through it. Finally, Jacob calmed down.

After a visit to the pediatrician and a confirmation that he's healthy and fine and indeed, he had a panic episode, I am left feeling so helpless.

You see, I know this "what if..." spiral too well. I hate it. I know how it can bring you to your knees and despite all rational reasoning, it's voice can loom larger than any other.

Looking back, I realize that I've always struggled with anxiety to some extent, but three years ago a hormonal shift happened in my body and I suddenly couldn't manage it on my own. Where in the past my anxiety manifested in a shortness of breath and a sense of unease, suddenly I was struck with chronic insomnia. Even writing about it gets the anxiety stirring a bit. Luckily the medicine has given me the ability to quiet those stirrings and put them in perspective.

But, now, my son. Ever since the election and the killer clowns he's been having little episodes. We thought he had asthma. Or allergies. Or anything that could explain his shortness of breath. But one night as I laid with him in his bed trying to soothe him with Vix and an inhaler, I saw something familiar.

I don't think he needs medicine. Yet. Right now we'll focus on teaching him mindfulness and helping him work through the moments. But my heart will continue to ache as I try to protect and support him while also trying not to project my own anxiety on him.

And so I'll take deep breaths. Be mindful. Pray more. And thank God for my own anxiety medicine that will help me help him.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

3/8/17 #sol17 LA Minute

Lelalois whipped her Ford Expedition through the parking lot, trying to get us back on the main road in this thick LA traffic after we'd missed a turn. "I think you make a right here," I instructed as I looked down at the map on my phone.

She didn't budge. I looked up to see why. "We're not going anywhere," she said.

There he was, a slight Asian man. He wore a light jacket, despite the California heat. In his left hand he carried a green cloth tote, a cane in his right. He wasn't walking, exactly, as that implies movement much quicker than what he was doing. He inched his way across the sidewalk, heading towards the waiting city bus. Lelalois and I had been rushing, missing turns, having to loop around, trying to reach our next destination. But now, there was nowhere to go. As he shuffled in front of us, we both stared.

"This is out of a movie," Lelalois chuckled. I agreed. "He must have left this morning to get here," I joked.

But then something happened to us both. As he creeped across the canvas of the windshield, we shifted our perspective. We became humbled by his grit. We were awed as we imagined the perseverance it must take when your body doesn't work the way you want it to anymore. But, still, this determined man kept going. One step at a time, regardless of how quickly he was going to get there. He just kept shuffling, one foot in front of the other. He became lovely to us, a reminder of fortitude and strength.

As I watch the news footage from today's latest awfulness coming from our White House, I am reminded of the power of one step at a time. I am thinking of the man from today and the lessons I can learn from him. We have to just keep doing the next right thing, shuffling ahead, even if we don't know how long it will take us to get there.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

3/7/17 #sol17 Uncle John

Uncle John

Tonight, I was struggling for a topic. Then, as I sat down at my laptop, my cell phone rang. It was my Uncle John, my godfather who lives out in Vegas. I haven't talked to him in a while and it was so good to hear his voice. We were going to both be in LA at the same time this week, but he was calling to say that his plans got changed.

I decided to write about John using a poem structure Kate Messner writers about in her book 59 Reasons to Write. I used my grandparent's old phone number to help structure the number of words in each sentence.

My Uncle John lives
so far away.
We don't see him often,
but he's a constant presence
in the family's lore.

When he comes back home,
his voice, his laughter,
his story-telling
fill the room.

He's sick now. Cancer.

I heard his voice tonight:
Quieter, softer, sadder.
My throat is thick with tears.

He's so far away,
but constantly present,
In my thoughts, in my heart.

Monday, March 6, 2017

3/6/17 #sol17 Erin

She rode her bike up to my grandma's house and walked the couple of steps up to the porch. I immediately noticed her hat, this sailor's hat with her name embroidered. It was all the rage from Cedar Point that summer. I myself had a quirky sense of style, but even I didn't know anyone who wore a hat. I thought it was a little bit weird, and mostly pretty cool.

Erin Frankenfield lived around the corner from my grandma (and the house my family would later move into) and she and another future classmate were there to officially welcome the granddaughter of their teacher. We became friends instantly. 

I've been blessed with a decades of countless beautiful and amazing friendships, but even now, nearly 30 years later, if you ask me to think about a best friend, Erin pops in my head first. She was the first friend I made after we moved to Ohio the summer before 6th grade. From the time we were 11 to the time we were 15, we were inseparable.

I remember sleepovers at Erin's house when we would wait until her dad left for third shift before we would sneak out of the house, stuffing our sleeping bags with pillows and Cabbage Patch dolls in case anyone checked on us. We'd wander the neighborhood, sometimes TPing the neighbor boy's house, sometimes sneaking into people's pools, often just roaming. I'm astonished by our audacity. We were fearless. 

We would drool over Johnny Depp and Evan Dando. We'd sneak into her teenage sister's room to read her diary (sorry, Gretchen!) and ride our bikes endlessly around the South end of our small town. We would play the Ouija board and scare the hell out of ourselves. We'd camp out in one of our backyards, staying up way too late, playing 7th grade version of Truth or Dare with our boyfriends or telling ghost stories. We had our own secret wave, the way you do when you're young and think you've invented everything. 

As we got older, Erin and I drifted apart the way people do sometimes. Every so often we'd circle back around to each other, but we made new friends and had different circles. I'm so grateful to have had such a strong friendship during those formative years. 

Erin and I recently hung out at our 20th class reunion and it was so fun to laugh and connect with the person who knew me best for so many important years. Everyone should have a friend like Erin once in their life, one who's kind a little bit weird, and mostly pretty cool. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

3/5/17 #sol17 What I Love About Naps

What I Love About Naps: Delicious Decadence

I must confess something that may change your opinion of me. I am a serious napper. It doesn't happen all the time, or even every week, but when I'm able to take a nap, I feel like I've won.

Naps are delicious. I love them on slow, rainy days. I love them on sunny days -- closing my eyes while the sun still shines feels like a stolen treat.

The best part of my naps is my napping blanket. I know that's weird for a 40 year old woman to say, but there it is. It's perfect; heavy enough to create a cocoon, but light enough that it doesn't weigh me down. My preferred spot to nap is in our bedroom, box fan whirring. I lie on top of my regular blankets, of course -- any respectable napper knows that getting under the covers is a bad idea.

Last month my whole family was hit by the flu, four fallen soldiers. Not me, though. Even after a week of cleaning up messes and wiping noses, I remained healthy. Greg teased that the secret to my health perhaps lies in my naps. I think he's on to something.

We hurtle through our weeks; karate, soccer, work, meetings, birthday parties, family gatherings. We have calendars synced, notifications popping up, emails tugging at our attention. We are being pulled in so many directions all the time. A nap restores me. There's something about pushing pause on life that makes me able to be more focused, more productive, more present.

I won't get a nap this weekend and I'm already looking forward to next weekend when our pace might be a little slower after another crazy week and I can hibernate for an hour.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

3/4/17 #sol17 Erie, PA

Erie, PA 

Every summer Greg and I load the kids into the van and head five hours north to Erie, PA where we spend a sacred week in the house where Greg grew up. Family pours in from all over -- Philly, California, across town -- as we all soak up as much time as we can together.

Greg's parents live in a beautiful place, where the distance to the lake is measured in footsteps. Their backyard overlooks a cliff which overlooks the lake. There's a stand of trees where my father-in-law hangs his hammock. Many nights he heads down to the hammock with one of his 10 grandkids, swinging and watching the sun sink behind the horizon.

Up until last summer my in-laws had a pool in the backyard where we would spend hours swimming. Every summer my kids would end up bringing home a case of swimmer's ear, but the memories of learning how to swim were worth it. The pool is gone now, but as the kids get older, we're finding new ways to make memories.

At least one of the nights is filled with a bonfire by the cliff, the s'mores piled high as the fire dances across our faces. We catch fireflies and listen to the waves crash against the rocks. Greg's godmother Janet and her 20-something daughter Angela travel from LA to be with us too. It is a marvel to watch Angela enjoy a midwestern summer night as she marvels at lightning bugs and green grass everywhere. We always order pizza and wings from Gary's Superette, the convenience store my father-in-law started, now owned by my brother-in-law Joel. It's the only time all year I eat chicken wings.

Sleepovers with cousins is a highlight of this week. Joel's family lives in the same town and so the kids love to swap families and sleep over with their cousins and Aunt Anita. My sister-in-law's family travels from out of town, so every night at Nana and Papa's is a sleepover.

After the little kids go to bed, my teenage nephews and I make The Best Nachos In The World (the secret is in the layering). We play Balderdash, or Apples to Apples, my sister-in-law Carrie usually succumbing to contagious laughter, tears rolling down her face.

My mother-in-law Judi always has a stash of her chocolate chip cookies ready for us to plow through. She hides them in the laundry room and soon "putting clothes in the dryer" becomes code for stuffing our faces with cookies. My brother-in-law Vince, the most vigilant about what he eats, probably does the most laundry all week.

The moments we spend in Erie are some of the happiest memories of our whole year. I feel so lucky to actually look forward to spend time with my in-laws. I know not everyone feels that way. Our family makes us who we are, even if we don't get to see them every day.

One of my favorite moments actually happens when it's time to leave. We all pile into our van and as we pull out of the driveway, my nephews chase our car down the driveway and onto the lane shouting, "We miss you already." As they get smaller in the rearview mirror, we wave furiously. I turn around in my seat, already looking forward to when we'll get to see them again, missing them already.

The Faulhaber Five by Lake Erie most summers since 2008.

Friday, March 3, 2017

3/3/17 #sol17 Toilets and Torture

Toilets and Torture


An apple had just exploded in my eye and my sister Emily, three years younger, was immediately filled with regret for hurtling the fruit.

This feeling of disaster followed by sisterly solidarity wasn't an unfamiliar pattern. As children, Emily and I fought incessantly. So much, in fact, that our traumatized baby sister Katie at one point requested to move in with Puff Daddy and the family. Our mom used to make us plan prayer meetings for each other in the hopes of divine intervention. Aunts and uncles avoided us.We were awful. 

There's a reason only adorable
baby pictures of us exist.
I think we must have refused to be
photographed together as middle schoolers.
Things Emily and I damaged over the course of middle school:

  • A toilet. For real. While sitting on the pot, Em blocked me from opening the door by using her feet to push against the door. I pushed back too hard and suddenly water gushed everywhere as the bowl cracked. 
  • Front door window panes. She locked me out and I pounded on the window. In my fury, the window shattered. 
  • The picture window at the bottom of the stairs. After a fierce chase through the house, one last shove resulted in another broken window.
I can remember vividly the blinding rage, followed immediately by desperate accord. We'd cook up a story for our parents, usually involving one of our knees popping out of place (we both had weak knees, so this story was both entirely plausible and earned us sympathy. Bonus!). 

It wasn't until we'd moved out of the house and had jobs and our own identity that Emily and I were able to broker some peace. Now, she and Katie are my best friends, the first ones I call when I'm stressed or happy. I can hardly believe that we are the same girls who went out of our way to torture one another. 
Jacob (9) and Justin (7).
Fighting. Again.

Recently my boys, 9 and 7, have started to remind me an awful lot of Emily and me. They just bug the crap out of each other. Breathing the same air is a form of torture. I am so tired of intervening and peace-making. I'm about to resort to prayer meetings in my own hopes of divine intervention. I can't wait until they move past this moment and become best friends they way my sisters and I are now. 

I just hope they don't break any toilets in the process. 

Emily, Katie and Angela