Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Problem with Chocolate Covered Bacon

It sits behind glass, next to the chocolate covered Twinkies and the chocolate covered Pringles, adjacent to the standing army of caramel and candy covered apples. Chocolate covered bacon was never something we'd considered buying when we stopped in the little candy store on our annual trip to the beach.

Not that the boys didn't make a case for it. A passionate, well-crafted case that consisted mostly of, "But, it's bacon. With chocolate on it!"

I would roll my eyes and say, "I don't think so," before turning my attention back to the classic, dependable, unmoved-by-fads-and-trends fudge and salt water taffy. We are not chocolate covered bacon people.

Until this summer.

"I think we should get the chocolate covered bacon," Robert said.

"What? We don't need that stuff. Fudge and taffy are good enough for us." I countered.

"I want to make memories," he said.

And there it was. Memories. I knew what that word meant, and I now knew what chocolate covered bacon meant too.

Four months earlier, after careful consideration, Robert decided it was time to look for a different job and took a buy-out package from Intel. It was essentially a four-month paid job search, if you wanted to look at it that way. Robert did look at it that way, and immediately started honing his resume and building a LinkedIn profile and looking for local companies in need of a process engineer. And while there have been interviews and connections and great contacts and positive feedback, what there hasn't been is a job offer.

So the search has expanded to places other than here.

I love here. The kids love here. And I'm pretty sure Robert loves here too. How can I ever say goodbye to the strawberries in June and the blueberries in July? The waterfalls in the gorge and the wildflowers in the mountains? How could I say goodbye to the rain that puts me to sleep at night and wakes me in the morning; that grows the trees tall and the grass green? How can I say goodbye to the friends, our neighbors, the playground steps from our back gate and the community that cares for and watches out for each other?

I don't want to leave. But I might have to.

So when Robert said he wanted to "make memories," I knew exactly what he was saying.

This could be the last time we wake up in the morning and say, "it's a good day for the beach! Let's go." It could be the last time we load up the car with shovels and skim boards, towels and sunscreen. It could be the last time we take that 90-minute drive past the farm stands and the old wooden train trestle bridge, the cool logging themed restaurant with the world's largest center beam log, and the former site of the world's largest Sitka spruce. It could be the last time we have the most delicious clam chowder at Doogers and feel extra special getting Tillamook ice cream at The Candyman.

We need to get the chocolate covered bacon now, because we might not be back here again.

We bought the chocolate covered bacon.

But I didn't eat any of it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


I'm a writer whose former employer won't let her quit.

I've got a laptop and an office with a door that closes. I've even got writing jobs. And best of all, I've got a plot outline for what will surely be a best selling middle grade book, and I'd love to work on it in between all my other writing jobs. But I can't. 

Why not? Because that former job just keeps dragging me back, demanding my time and energy. They refuse to find a replacement even though there are four qualified candidates just hanging around doing nothing. They only want me. They will not leave me alone.

But I want to write. I can make money doing this. I have made money doing this. I can make more. Yet, apparently, desire is not enough. Either, unfortunately, is the need for income. Because we currently have none. 

I will soldier on despite the difficulties. Despite the fact that, if I'm being honest with myself, I haven't entirely left my former job. I never will. And truth be told, I never want to. It is my favorite job; one which—despite what some had warned—fullfills me in every way.

I will always be Mom.

Still, my attempts at delegation have failed and so I'm left with a work day that looks a little bit like this:

6:00 am - I wake. If I get out of bed now, I might get two uninterrupted hours of writing time. Think of what I could do in two hours!

6:45 am - I get out of bed and head downstairs in my bathrobe. I will reward myself with a shower when I've accomplished my work.

8:15 am - The office door opens. "We're out of milk. What am I supposed to eat for breakfast." I suggest toast. Apparently we are out of bread too.

8:17 am - I put on sweats (this still doesn't count as getting dressed and I am still bound to the "write first, shower later" deal) and head to the grocery store.

8:54 am - I return with the milk, bread, some donuts, deodorant (I remembered I've been down to the plastic for two days) and frozen corndogs so when there's nothing to eat for lunch, I'll be prepared. I get back to writing.

9:21 am - Child number three opens the door, walks in and plops himself down in a chair. "I'm bored. What can I do?" I tell him the dishwasher needs to be emptied and the playroom needs to be cleaned. He could do laundry. I have five more suggestions but child number three has slid out of the chair and is on the floor moaning and doesn't seem interested in what I have to say.

10:01 am - I'm back to writing after arranging a play date with child number three's friend and throwing a load of laundry in the washing machine. 

10:45 am - Husband's friend shows up for their RC plane flying slash networking appointment. I'm still not showered. I shut the door to my office so he doesn't see me. I feel trapped. I consider writing a snarky piece on the fine line between unemployment and a very long vacation.

12:00 pm - Back to writing after hanging the wet laundry outside to dry and starting another load, vacuuming the boys bedroom and picking up the bathroom. If I work hard and finish, I can figure out what to make for dinner and go grocery shopping. And of course, shower!

12:30 pm - Yay shower!

12:38 pm - Husband comes home from RC plane flying with just enough time to shower and make it to his massage appointment. (Snark intended)

1:16 pm - Five boys set up World Pokemon Trading Negotiations 2015 out side of my office. They are excited. They are loud. They love Pokemon and they don't care who knows it.

1:20 pm - Child number three comes into the office. "I'm hungry," he says. What can I eat? I remind him about the frozen corn dogs. He already had one. What else is there, he wants to know. I suggest carrots or celery. I suggest grapes or a glass of water. I have more suggestions, but he's slid out of the chair and onto the floor in a weepy heap. 

1:52 pm - The Pokemon delegation suggests that playing Super Smash Bros might be a good follow up activity to the card trading. I negotiate for a clean playroom and we have a deal.

1:54 pm - Child number three tattles that everyone is playing without cleaning. I respectfully decline to engage, beg child number three to just let me write and tell him to remind the delegation that we had a deal.

1:55 pm - Screaming, door slamming, thunderous upstairs stomping.

2:01 pm - Child number two comes into the office to complain. I give an ultimatum: clean the playroom or go somewhere else to play. Child number two refuses to take the deal. I suggest he go somewhere else with his friends. Child number two refuses to budge. I suggest he tell his friends they need to go home. Child number two holds firm on the disobedient stance.

2:04 pm - Child number two cries when I send his friends home. 

2:35 pm - Child number two is still crying, refuses to leave my office. I get two more sentences typed

2:55 pm - I don hearing protection and text a picture of the crying child to grammy.

2:56 pm - "That's the meanest thing anyone has ever done to me," Child number two says. Or at least I think that's what he says. It's hard to hear with these ear muffs on.

3:02 pm - Child number three comes in to see what all the fuss is about. Two is kicked by three and now both of them are crying. I type four more words.

3:19 pm - Three blows his nose into the throw pillow I made from $20-a-yard, dry-clean-only fabric. It's my fault for thinking I could have nice things. I manage another sentence.

3:49 pm - The standoff comes to an end. I still can't hear because of the things on my ears, but Two and Three wander off to do something. (Maybe they're cleaning the playroom.)

4:15 pm - I pound out a good start to a blog post in which I use humor to hide my pain. 

4:17 pm - Two and Three come in and argue with each other right in front of me. I ignore them. They leave after 2 minutes.

4:30 pm - The kids want to eat again. They say "Mom" a lot. I try not to make eye contact and type two more sentences. 

4:45 pm - I realize I have no idea what is for dinner. I bring in a load of laundry, and reflect on another day I didn't get any part of my future bestseller written. Maybe I'll wake up earlier tomorrow.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Miracle of the Reader's Digest Behind the Toilet

On the shelf behind my toilet sits the November 2013 issue of the Reader's Digest. It's magic.

I used to be a Reader's Digest subscriber. Every month the newest issue would arrive, spend a day or two downstairs, then go upstairs to the shelf behind the toilet. The Reader's Digest, with its one or two line "Quoteable Quotes," the mid-length quiz, "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power," and the longer "Drama In Real Life," makes the ideal bathroom reading material. There is just the right amount of content for every situation, if you know what I mean.

Back in 2013 I stopped my subscription to The Reader's Digest. While I enjoyed every part of it, I just didn't have time to consume it all before the next issue came. I found myself tossing them into recycling only partially read and feeling quite wasteful about it.

But we still needed bathroom reading material, so the November 2013 issue stayed put on the shelf behind the toilet. And it's a good thing I kept it, because as I've already mentioned, it's magic. After nearly two years, no matter what page I turn to in that 180 page magazine, I find something I've never seen before.

See? Magic!

"Did you read this article by Billy Crystal?" I ask Robert from my echo chamber one evening.

"There's an article by Billy Crystal in there?" He garbles over the hum of his Sonicare, mouth full of toothpaste. At least I think that's what he says.

"I know! How have I not seen it before now? It's hilarious." I glance at the cover again to make sure the Reader's Digest Fairy hasn't gifted us with a different issue. Nope, still November 2013.

A few days later, I find an interview with Malcolm Gladwell. Of course! I think to myself. This was when his last book came out. I seem to remember reading it before and I scan the questions and answers. They are fresh and interesting, as if I'm seeing them for the first time. Huh, I think.

The next week I take the "It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power" quiz and score 13 out of 15. I wonder how many times I've taken the quiz and scored the same. Will I ever learn the definition of venal or bumptious? Is this something I should be concerned about?

Concerned? I think. That I have a magic Reader's Digest filled with endless reading material? 

I put the November 2013 Reader's Digest back on the shelf behind the toilet and try to recall that word I didn't know the definition for.

Until next time, magic Reader's Digest!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Things You Should Never Say To a Person Who Is Trying to Be Nice (And Things You Should)

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was diagnosed with hyperemisis gravidarum. In other words, I threw up day and night for months, unable to keep anything down for more than a few seconds. Eventually I got a picc line and was put on a 23 hour IV nutrition solution called TPN. Even though I wasn't eating, I still threw up around the clock.

Everything made me vomit but especially the seeing food, the fridge being opened, the smell when something was being microwaved, and dreams about food.

During this time, many people tried to help. Some of them tried to help by suggesting anti-nausea remedies (Seabands, ginger tea, smelling a lemon, hypnosis). Some suggested reasons HG may be happening to me (it was all in my head, it was Robert's fault, I'd let it get out of control, our new house had too much new carpet which was probably releasing chemicals into the air and making me sick). And one doctor subtly, but clearly suggested a solution (abortion).

Despite my explanations about food exacerbating the problem, people still brought me food. One person brought in houseplants so they could clean the air. Someone else kept me supplied with lemons to smell. And, when I was finally well enough to sit through church, one guy asked me, "Are you able to keep food down now?" every single week, even several months after my baby had been born.

It never would have occurred to me reprimand these people for making an effort to be kind. In fact, when I felt well enough, I wrote every single one a thank-you note. Did some of their attempts miss the mark? Sure. But it wasn't their failures I was paying attention to. That was secondary to their effort to do something. From my own experience, I know that doing something is not always easy.

So why do we have the myriad lists floating around the internet with titles like "stupidest things to say to someone with cancer," "things never to say to a person with anxiety," or "things you should never say to a pregnant woman," or a black coworker, or a daughter, or someone who hates her birthday, or a creative person or even (and I promise I'm not making this up) "things never to say to someone?"

Sure, these lists tell me what not to do if I want to be sensitive in a particular situation, but they also provide painful reminders of how many times I've said the wrong thing, even with my heart in the right place. Beyond that, they focus only on the negative behaviors and seem to mock the very people who are trying. They make me want to never say anything or get involved with a struggling friend again.

It takes so little effort to become offended. It's much more difficult to consistently see the good in others. More challenging still to do so when someone has said something unintentionally unkind.

How do you know if people are trying to be nice or are really trying to hurt you? Remember, people are usually dumb before they are malicious. Just assume that you are dealing with a good person who is temporarily afflicted with a little Dumb, and be kind. Instead of focusing on how they're offending you, why not give them the benefit of the doubt. Why not show a little grace.

Yes. Let's bring back grace.

Imagine a world where every time we said something dumb, or felt stupid, and wanted to hide under a rock and never come out, someone was there to see recognize our good intentions? What if worked to build and love each other? What if we weren't mocked when our efforts to reach out to others fell short, but were lovingly cared for and enlightened?

If find yourself struggling with what to say to someone who has just been insensitive towards you, but who is a little clueless, try some of these phrases:

1. Thank you.
2. You are so nice to think of me.
3. I appreciate you taking time for me.
4. You are so thoughtful.
5. Thanks for sticking by me.

No more silent seething and passive aggressive list-making when people aren't being nice to you. They are being nice . . . just not very well. Don't punish them for it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why Writing Takes So Long

I needed a name for a personal assistant to a company CFO. I thought, "Lois," or "Sue," but that sounded so typical.

I should make him a guy, I thought. That's original. 

I remembered that Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock had a male assistant. What was his name?

I Googled: Jonathan! But wait, when I started to Google "Who is Jack Donaghy . . . " before I typed that apostrophe s and finished the sentence with "assistant," I'd noticed that one of Google's guesses was, "Who is Jack Donaghy based on."

I had to know! So I went back and clicked on that. As it turns out, Jack Donaghy was based on a composite of several TV network CEO's but a big part of Jack's character is Lorne Michaels.

Huh. Who knew? (Okay, I know. Probably everyone except me.)

But there were several other articles covering the topic of Jack Donaghy and 30 Rock and one of them was an interview with Tina Fey!

Obviously I had to read that.

Tina Fey is delightful. And I've just wasted maybe fifteen minutes on a question I'd answered 14 minutes and 55 seconds ago.

So, what next?

I could tweet about how I just wasted so much time, but I don't think I could get this down into however many characters Twitter allows. I could Facebook status it, but I'm staying off of Facebook until I've got five more pages written, so I guess it has to be a blog post.

And that is why writing takes so long.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Jarring Dinner Party

There are consequences for going public with your opinions. Oh yes, there are.

Sometimes the consequence is acquiring a cortege of back-patting sycophants whose adoration you can never quite trust. Other times, its discovering a mob of vocal opposers happy to tell you where to go.

However, there is one consequence that falls in the sweet spot between love and hate: The Practical Joke.

I suppose I opened myself wide with my firm declaration that canning jars are tragically inappropriate vessels for salad (and hillbilly substitutes for all other eating and drinking purposes). Certain friends could understandably not resist the opportunity for a little ribbing.

The set-up was innocent enough: A pot-luck dinner party.

The covert legwork of the conspirators included a private Pinterest board full of food-in-jar recipes and nonchalantly pigeon-holing me into the one of two menu item assignments that could not be made in a jar.

I arrived on the pre-appointed evening with my piping hot rolls. The table had been set, but the food was not yet out. Mason jars with straws and lemon wedges stood watch over each empty plate.

Okay. We're drinking out of Mason jars. It's cute. I can be a hillbilly for the evening. At least straws had been provided. I said nothing.

And then the main dish came out of the oven: a tray full of chicken cordon bleu-filled half pints. Something was up.

Quickly, four quart jars of SALAD were removed from the fridge. What the . . . !

"Surprise! We're having dinner in jars!" my friends exclaimed with the unadulterated joy that comes from weeks of planning and a secret Pinterest board.

Dessert, too, was in a jar.

There was a brief moment of confusion. A, "wait, so everyone was in on this?" realization that I'd been pranked in the most delicious way.

Dinner was divine.

Eating the moist, delicious chicken cordon bleu out of a jar was awkward, but doable. However, those who were not dab hands at using a knife and fork in tight spaces were happy to find the whole meaty-cheesy serving slid out of the jar and onto the plate in an upscale column that would have been right at home in a Michelin-starred establishment.

The sangria was delightfully refreshing and I started to wonder if the Hillbillies might be onto something. Drinking out of a jar has a way of making one feel decadently lazy.

The potatoes (not in a jar, but still important) were downright addictive. (Thank you Ranch Dressing Mix!)

The "dirt" parfait added a touch of chocolate whimsy to top off the meal. However my fingers did sustain slight collateral chocolating when my hand made contact with the rim of the regular-mouth jar while maneuvering the spoon to reach the last few bites. However the rare chance for grown-ups to eat gummy worms without our children hogging them all made up for any compulsory finger licking.

And the salad . . .

The salad was beautiful, but impractical and forthwith was dumped into a gorgeous salad bowl, with gently sloping sides and matching serving fork and spoon, where it was tossed with dressing—because salad should never be served in canning jars. Once in the appropriate bowl, the salad proved to be a revelation of fruit and feta, bacon and crunchy romaine. I would have eaten more if it had been physically possible. 

(Salad in jar for photo only—no salad was consumed in a jar for the making of this dinner party.)

So, dear reader, I ask: Is it worth it to be opinionated about the hot trends that cross our collective path? To state boldly your views on the meaningless novelties that are more photo-op than life hack?

Oh yes. Yes it is.

By the way, have I mentioned how overrated villas on Lake Como, Italy are? So. Overrated.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hiking The Whole Wildwood in One Day

Monday, after a few months of conditioning and prepping with my good friend and co-hiker, I-Shuan, we hiked the whole Wildwood Trail in one day. In retrospect, if I hadn't had I-Shuan there, I would have probably given up. It was pretty tough, and I have a feeling we both kept each other going.

Here's how it went down.

7am - We arrive at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington Park, just past the zoo. Ethan drops us off, we pose for a photo in front of the "Start of the Wildwood Trail" sign, but it's too dark to get a good picture and we don't have time to fuss with the camera. We've got some serious miles to cover today. So after this grainy photo that won't convince anyone of our exact location (and that I decide to post to Facebook anyway), we set off.

7:30am - It becomes obvious that we have taken a wrong turn on the mess of trails in the Washington Park area, and while the magnolia trees were fragrant and spectacular on the Magnolia Trail, it appears we have looped around and are headed BACK to the Vietnam Memorial instead of away from it. At this moment I was ready to quit. The most we'd ever hiked was 20 miles and that was physcially a stretch. I knew 30.2—the entire length of the Wildwood Trail—was going to be our limit. Now, we had just unwittingly added one mile to that final number. It was almost more than I could take. I felt like Tonya Harding at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics when, seconds into her free-skate routine, she discovered her shoelace was torn and asked to start over.

Like Tonya, I desperately wanted to start over. On another day. I could not hike 31.2 miles in one day. I couldn't! But we persisted, in large part because I'd already posted on Facebook that we were indeed doing this hike today. What could we do?

8:42am - Pittock Mansion and a comfortable looking picnic table come into view. I can't wait to sit down. Before we started, we had decided to rest every five miles during the hike as a way to pace ourselves. Pittock Mansion is actually four miles into the Wildwood Trail, but since we went a mile out of our way . . .

I snap a couple photos, update my Facebook page and get out my hiking poles to help with the steep down hill portion that is coming up. One of the things that I'd struggled with most while conditioning for this hike was pain in my knees. This time I had a knee brace and hiking poles to try and keep some of the discomfort at bay.

10:30am - We arrive at NW 53rd Drive and find a log to sit on while we fuel up on water, Cliff bars, and thanks to I-Shuan, Korean beef jerky and dark chocolate M&M's. I pull out my phone to pause my MapMyHike app and check Facebook. There are lots of encouraging messages from friends on the pictures I've posted. I read them aloud and I-Shuan and I are pumped. We are a third done with our hike. Next stop: the half way point for lunch.

12:30pm - Thank goodness one of us has to answer the call of nature, so we can stop for a few minutes right before a steepish climb. Before I started hiking on the Wildwood Trail, I would have told you that it was pretty flat. But now, about 14 miles in, I can tell you it is definitely not flat. I am becoming aware of every slight rise or fall in elevation. Painfully aware.

1:15pm - We finally cross Saltzman Road and reach the stone wall at mile 16 and break for lunch. I call Robert. He says he is proud of me and we estimate we should be done around 6pm. I have my peanut butter sandwich, three Advil for my knee, and am too tired to check Facebook. Also, my phone battery is waning, so I hook up my back up battery.

As we get started after lunch. I'm thrilled that my knee seems to hurt less than before. We power ahead.

I don't care what time it is anymore - We reach mile 20. I have come to rely on the blue diamonds painted onto trees every quarter mile as a way to maintain my sanity. We are making progress. Each blue diamond means I'm a quarter mile closer to the end. We sit on the ground and I suck down water from my camel pack. I brought two liters, so I should have plenty. It tastes so good. Too soon, however, it is time to get up and walk some more. The Advil is starting to wear off.

About mile 22 we pass some runners from the University of Portland. They are young, fit and all running in a neat, quick line, as if their knees aren't shooting spikes of pain into their leg with every step. It's so annoying. We move off the trail to let them pass and I-Shuan cheers them on and shouts something encouraging. I want someone to cheer for me. 

I think I hear cars. We must be getting close to Germantown Road. I'm certain it's just around the next corner. We are not close. It is only an illusion.

4:30 pm - Finally, we reach Germantown Road. Mile 25. I make my way down the steep hill into the parking area. I'm taking the hill like a 99 year old grandma who has lost her walker and a young man with a spring in his step passes me going up the hill. "I've been doing this since 7 this morning," I told him. "I'm on mile 25. That's why I'm walking this way."

I just needed someone else to know.

He is either impressed or humoring me when he says, "Wow, that's great! I'm only doing two miles."  It was enough to satisfy me.

We cross the street and sit on a log for our break. I-Shuan calls Ryan to give him our ETA while I suck down more of my delicious Portland water. To say it's refreshing is an understatement. Every gulp fills me with resolve. It is renewing and, if my knees didn't hurt, would be all I needed to spur me on to the finish line.

And then I run out of water.

How could this be? I'd had two liters. On all the hikes I'd ever been on, I'd never run out of water before. I-Shuan offers me salty pistachios but I just want delicious water. (I take a handful of pistachios anyway.)

My only consolation is that we are so close to our goal. And Ryan is coming to get us. Also helpful: I-Shuan gives me half a bottle of water. I decide to save it for when it is time to take more Advil.

Mile 25.5 - I question the accuracy of the blue diamond tree mileage markers. Surely they are lying. They taunt me.

Mile 25.75 - I-Shuan and I run out of things to talk about.

Mile 27.25 - I want my mommy.

Mile 27.5 - I wonder if I'm old enough for knee replacement surgery.

Mile 28 - Why didn't I take Advil back at mile 25?

Mile 28.25 - My phone battery dies and MapMyHike stops mapping my hike.

Mile 28.75 - We would be almost done now if we hadn't hiked that extra mile this morning.

Mile 29.25 - Ryan appears like a mirage in front of us. He's arrived to pick us up. As much as I'd like him to, he can't literally pick us up and carry us back to the car. We have to keep walking. Did I mention that we'd be done by now if we hadn't taken that wrong turn at 7am?

Mile 29.30 through 29.75 - "Isn't that the mile 30 tree right around the corner?" (No, it's not)

Mile 30 - It's as good as over. Just .2 miles to go. We've done it. Wait . . . I don't remember .2 miles being this long before.

6:45 - As we limp towards the van, Ryan has us stop in front of the trail sign for a picture. The smile is fake. The sign keeps me from falling over. Then, I get into the most beautiful minivan I've ever seen and immediately take two Advil.