Friday, December 22, 2017

Electronic Christmas Greetings

'Tis the season for Christmas cards and fun letters about the events of the past year. I used to be one of those people that mailed out cards and letters in envelopes addressed by hand.  And now I am not.  I used to feel guilty about letting that annual tradition slip.  And now I do not.  I think I'm finally embracing the unique blessings of being over 40.  Here is what brought me and my people joy this year...

Nick is doing the happy dance over the new shop that we built in our backyard this year.  For the past 10 years, we've managed to squeeze all of his welding equipment, woodworking tools, the many pieces of the 1955 Ford pickup, and my car, into our 2-car garage. The clutter very important tools were starting to multiply and we finally decided to expand.  Nothing in financing, permitting or construction ever goes according to plan, so this seemingly simple garage (literally 4 walls and a roof) took about a year to complete from start to finish. And now Nick has plenty of room to work and store all of his toys.  And I can park in the garage and walk into the house without risking a multitude of tripping hazards. This is what we call a win-win.

Bella turned 20(!) this year, is living with her grandma and plugging away at her general ed courses at Shasta College.  We are happy to announce she finally embraced the convenience of modern transportation and got her driver's license. After some time off from school, Bella seems to have found her groove this year and has her sights set on becoming a high school science teacher. As it tends to go with kids her age, communicating with her parents isn't her first priority so the details of this paragraph may or may not be accurate.  Love you Bella.  Call us sometime. (-;

Clara is 9 years old and her favorites are learning Mandarin, American Girl dolls, Jr. Giants baseball, Girl Scouts, and making pancakes (not necessarily in that order).  She has inherited her mother's love for San Francisco and we were able to make three trips to the City this year for the Chinese New Year parade, the Exploratorium, and a Giants game. This girl, who refused to wear anything but dresses for the first 6 years of her life, has now officially declared that she is "allergic" to fancy. In spite of this, she returned to ballet this fall, which was super fun until she fractured her foot and had to sit out for 4 weeks. Her favorite part of that experience (that she reminds us of regularly) 
was the doctor recommending ice cream as a good source of calcium to prevent future fractures. Her current career ambition is something that allows her to get dirty every day because mud/dirt/sand is her favorite.  So, as much as kids change as they grow up, it is comforting that some things stay the same. 

Thomas is six and if you looked up "Six Year Old Boy" in the would probably find his picture.  Burps, farts, trucks, Legos, and anything fast are the things that bring him joy these days.  After much anticipation, he finally lost his first tooth this year, and he gained enough confidence in the pool to swim without a life jacket. He is loving his small, nature-focused school and loves to educate the rest of the family about the scientific names for native wildflowers, or the mysteries of the solar system and how the planets move to make day and night. He also ran on the cross country team this fall, which was a great outlet for his love of speed.  Next up, BMX racing and snowboard lessons. As a kid with many interests, he has a hard time pinning down career goals, but last time I checked it was a crane operator, race car driver, or dump truck driver.  Only time will tell.

I have been busy finding my place this year.  After three years, my contract with the Shasta Early Literacy Partnership ended and I found myself without a steady source of income (other than our steady sugar daddy, Nick).  As luck would have it, an unsuccessful job interview and some personal connections led me to a few consulting gigs that have kept me afloat and out of trouble.  I'm helping one of my current clients with a $4 million capital campaign, so things are certainly not boring. I've enjoyed volunteering at the kids' schools, becoming a regular at the Power Class at my gym, and running an occasional race (one 5k and one 5-mile this year).  Being a mom continues to be my main occupation and my greatest joy.

Although we're sending this via the internet and not US Mail, the warm thoughts and wishes for holiday happiness are just as sincere.  As we anticipate the miracle of Christmas, we pray that
you find the time to celebrate joy in your life, in all its various forms.

Merry Christmas!

The Cavalleri Family

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How to Remove a Glass Sliver From Your Finger in 12 Easy Steps

Once upon a time, my son dropped a glass jar of peanut butter on the tile floor.  Needless to say, the jar didn't survive the fall and immediately broke into approximately 5,328 pieces.  I happened to be in the kitchen with my son at the time, both of us with bare feet.

I immediately yelled, "FREEZE", for fear that my son would take a step and inadvertently impale his tender, young foot with a shard of glass.

I then yelled, "SHOES", so that my husband, who was in the other room, could toss me some footwear so I could maneuver my way around the hazardous mess.

Have you ever cleaned up a major peanut butter spill speckled with glass?  No?  Well, let me tell you.  It's no picnic.

I looked at this globby mess studded with glass and wondered about the best approach.

Broom?  No.

Hose?  No.

I carefully picked up the larger pieces of glass and then started blankly at the remaining disaster.  What earthly tool is made for this kind of madness?! What could I use to collect glass and simultaneously wipe this greasy mess off the floor?

If you're thinking paper towels....we're on the same page.

But I also have to tell you, (spoiler alert!) it was a bad choice.

I grabbed a few paper towels, wiped them across the floor (carefully....) and immediately got a piece of glass embedded in my finger.

Blood.  Pain.  Glass now inside my finger.  And still the peanut butter mess.

So, clearly I'm no help when it comes to cleaning up broken glass.  But if you happen to get glass in your finger, I'm now an expert and getting it out.  So, here it is.  My fool-proof method for removing a glass sliver from your finger.

1.  Squeeze finger hoping glass sliver will come squirting out.

2.  Visit urgent care, let them poke around your finger to pull out the glass, while trying to stay composed in front of your young daughter.

3.  Wait two days and realize, on account of the significant pain, there is still glass in your finger.

4.  Google home remedies for extracting/removing slivers.

5.  Soak finger daily in warm water.  Because that's supposed to do something.

6.  Buy some old fashioned drawing salve (it's a thing...look it up) and use that for a week or two in a desperate attempt to get the glass to come to the surface so you can pluck it out.

7.  Muster your courage, and return to urgent care for excavation, phase II.

8.  Urgent care refers you to Orthopedic specialist (Specialist? For a SLIVER?!) who is apparently "the guy" for removing foreign bodies.

9.  Orthopedic specialist takes x-rays (X-Rays?!) of your hand to get a good look at this piece of mason jar inside your finger.

10.  Orthopedic specialist takes one look at the X-Ray and refers you to Hand Surgeon for extraction. 

11.  Visit Hand Surgeon, have him slice open your finger to remove the ridiculously tiny piece of glass.  Three stitches later, you're home free.

12.  Write an informational (and slightly whiny) blog so you can properly document the life of The Sliver.

Alternate, 1-step method:

1.  Don't be an idiot when you clean up broken glass.

The end. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Dear Angry, American, White Men,

Your lives matter.  Yes.  Yes they absolutely do.

I thought maybe you would understand that without me saying it out loud because laws, customs, rights and privileges in the US have always reinforced this message.  Since the arrival of the white man on American soil, you've been top dog, most important and all powerful. 

There has never been a time where you were not eligible to hold public office in this country.

Now we have women and people of color and transgender people and all kinds of different folks holding public office.  This doesn't mean that you don't matter.  It means that other people matter, too.

You have been raised in a society that has historically accepted blonde hair and blue eyes as the ultimate symbol of beauty.

Now we have TV shows, beauty contests and billboards telling us that people with darker skin or kinky hair or almond-shaped eyes are also beautiful.  This doesn't mean that you don't matter.  It means that other people matter, too.

You have never had to protest or fight to earn your right to vote.  You've always had that right.

Now women and people of color also have the right to vote.  This doesn't mean that you don't matter.  It means that other people matter, too.

You've never been forced to sit in the back of the bus, drink from a different water fountain, or enter the movie theater via the back entrance.

Now people of every color have full rights to enjoy public spaces and privileges once reserved just for white people.  This doesn't mean that you don't matter.  It means that other people matter, too.

Hear this truth: You matter.  Historically your place and privilege in this country has reinforced this message over and over and over.  I'm not here to tell you any different.  You still matter.

What people of color, women, disabled, LGBTQ, and every other "different" American would like you to know, hear and understand is that THEY matter.  Historically their place and lack of privilege in this country has reinforced the opposite message over and over and over.

In this country, for a white man to loudly insist that they matter is an unnecessary redundancy.  American history books are filled to the brim with stories that reinforce this truth.  YES.  You matter.  Nobody is disputing that fact.

What is currently up for discussion is the fact that others matter, too.  Also.  Both.  Equally.

This narrative is new and uncomfortable because it might feel like those people are trying to tell you that you're somehow less-than, or not valuable, or you don't matter.

This response is a little like someone with a hangnail complaining about the pain while their friend undergoes a root canal without anesthesia.

Yes, the hangnail is a little painful.  But let's put things in perspective, shall we?  How annoyed is your friend getting the root canal when you're saying "What about me??  What about my pain?  I'm suffering too!!"

Eye roll. 

So, white lives matter.  But friends.  Please.  When you say that to a culture, a race, a gender, or a religious group that has been told with words and actions over successive generations that they do NOT aren't getting any sympathy or support. Nope.  None.

Hangnail.  Root canal.

Always been eligible to vote?  Always been able to hold public office?  Never been denied a job because of your skin color?  Never been refused enrollment at college because of your gender?  Relatives never been owned as property?   Never had to practice your religion in secrecy?  Good for you. Clearly you matter.  Without even saying so. 

Many of our friends haven't enjoyed this legacy of privilege, but they matter.  THAT is why we say it out loud.  Because it hasn't been said before.  Throughout the history of our nation, our words and actions have said the exact opposite. 

You are not less than.

You matter.

So please don't be afraid to support your neighbors when they speak this truth about themselves. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Salsa Season.

Summer is here, and our garden is producing so many tomatoes and cucumbers that I find myself Googling new recipes on a daily basis.  This week, as the tomatoes piled up in the basket on the kitchen counter, homemade salsa was on my mind.  And as that salsa evolved from daydream to reality, it took me on a surprising journey down memory lane.

The recipe I typically use for salsa came from an old friend that I worked with at my first "real" job after college.  Kenee was my boss at UC Santa Cruz, and quickly became my mentor in many aspects of life.  She turned 30 while we worked together, which seemed horribly old to me at the time, but she took on that milestone birthday without batting an eye.  While I was hitting the burrito shack for dinner 2-3 times each week, she showed me how to plan a week's worth of meals and buy food at the....get store.  Kenee was also a gardener, and made some pretty awesome salsa from the bounty in her backyard.  Her green thumb and ability to create edible, homemade creations seemed miraculous to me in my toaster strudel/burrito shack stage of life. 

When Kenee shared this salsa recipe with me, I had high (but unrealistic) hopes of making my own fresh salsa.  I had no garden to produce good tomatoes.  At age 25, I had no motivation to actually make something that could easily be purchased in a jar at the grocery store.  Nonetheless, I took the recipe thinking that maybe someday, when I grew up, I could be crafty in the kitchen and create this delicious salsa myself. 

Fast forward five years, and I was living in northern California in a home that I actually owned, that happened to have raised bed garden boxes. I planted a few tomatoes, and the time came to dust off that salsa recipe and give it a try.  My boyfriend (now husband) and I spent lazy evenings at home picking a ridiculous number of tomatoes out of my small garden.  In those days, before marriage and kids, we had oodles of time to slice and dice tomatoes, listen to jazz, drink wine, and sit on the patio eating chips and salsa until our bellies finally groaned in protest.  I thought back to those days in my early 20's when I couldn't imagine taking the time to make anything homemade, much less from tomatoes I had grown myself.  The feeling was something like adulthood. 

Fast forward another five years and I was in the thick of parenting young children.  I was married, living in a bigger house, and again in a stage of life where gardening seemed like a ridiculous impossibility. Too busy.  Too tired.  Too focused on keeping little people alive to bother with tending to plants in the backyard. Every summer I would consider a garden, and quickly give up on the idea somewhere between changing a diaper, running a load of laundry, and scraping dried jelly off the floor. Gardening was an unaffordable luxury of time in this busy season of life.

And now, I have arrived in a new season of life, where my 6-year old son has convinced me to put in a garden that he will "help" tend.  Needless to say, after years of neglect, our garden was a mess.  The weeds had developed into a thick, tangled mess.  But we tried it anyway.  My son and I spent spring afternoons turning over the dirt, pulling weeds, and mixing compost into the garden.  Finally, as the days grew warmer, we ventured to the nursery to pick out seeds that would be carefully sown (on a wing and a prayer) in our little garden.

My pint-sized gardener and the fruit of his labor.
Surprisingly, our garden experiment has been a fantastic success.  After years of rest, the soil was apparently ready to host a garden!  In spite of my serious doubts, my son's dedication to gardening has not waned and he continues to water and tend to the harvest each day.  His pure joy and pride are priceless as he picks yet another cucumber or anxiously watches the cantaloupe for signs of ripening.

And now, the return of the salsa. 

Again, I find myself with an abundance of tomatoes.  This season of bounty snuck up on me, and as I diced tomatoes and onions to create our first homemade salsa of the season, it bought back a flood of memories.  I thought about Kenee who had first given me the recipe and planted the seed of inspiration (that would take years to bear fruit).  I thought about the relaxing evenings years ago when I had made batch after batch of this salsa, working with an abundance of tomatoes and time.  And then I thought of that busy, exhausting time of life when the garden lay dormant and I was convinced I would never again sleep through the night or have time to make anything homemade.

Finally, I breathed into the current season of life. I wondered how my son came to be so eager to plant a garden while his older sister took no interest.  I appreciated the window of time to chop, dice and mix to bring this old recipe back to life again.  Mostly I just felt gratitude for the seasons of life that come and go, and sometimes come again.  Clearly, dicing tomatoes with a 6-year old in the kitchen created a different mood (and bigger mess) than when I did it in my late 20's while sipping wine with my husband.  But each moment was equally sweet.  Each season holds bounty, if we only take time to appreciate the harvest.

Super Salsa Fresca
3-4 Cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 Lg. Onion, finely chopped
2-4 jalapenos stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 C. finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 pounds tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 T. Vegetable oil
Juice of 1 lime
Directions: Combine, cover, chill.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 23, 2017

I'm Bored.

Anyone that has kids home for summer vacation will hear these simple words eventually...."I'm bored."  I remember when I said this myself as a kid, it was my plea for any adult in close proximity to put on a clown suit and entertain me.  Or help me bake cookies and clean up the mess afterwards.  Or immediately drive me to Disneyland so I could have some real fun.  Any of those seemed like reasonable responses.  I wanted someone to bring the world to life and deliver to me (preferably on a silver platter) all the fun that I was invariably missing.

As a mom, I simply chuckle to myself when my kids claim boredom.  Because I know that is when the real fun begins.  After daily homework or chores are done, after the precious TV show has been watched, and after a swim in the pool is usually when boredom sets in at our house.  And instead of jumping into action to keep my kids entertained when the big B-word gets tossed around, I step back and let them sink into that feeling.  Because truth is, they can't/won't/don't stay there long.

When they are bored is when the elaborate games are born, like the karate class interrupting the ballet class scene that got played out over and over and over in the pool last week.  Boring time is when old, forgotten toys and games get pulled out of the closet. It's when art is created.  Without boredom they might never have discovered that taking Legos into the closet with a flashlight makes building more fun.  Who knew?  Without a little boring down time our poor trees would never have received mud massages, toenails would never be painted rainbow colors, and blanket forts would never come to life.

Of course boring isn't all fun and games with kids.  It's also prime time for arguments and sibling rivalry and tears.  Boredom is alleviated by annoying your sibling.....which in turn annoys everyone else in the house.  Sometimes (many times) our boring times eventually end up here.  Someone experiences a huge injustice.  There are raised voices.  Sometimes yelling.  Sometimes tears.  But, if mom can keep her cool, there are also teachable moments and reconciliation.  Kids learn that being unkind or refusing to share doesn't really get them what they want.  Or at least, I'm really praying that lesson will be learned....eventually.  Still working on that one.

In my mind, being bored needs to be on every kids' summer to-do list, right along with swim lessons, and summer reading. The long days of summer present a precious opportunity to be bored.  And live through it. And maybe even enjoy it.  When kids have the chance to be still and enjoy unstructured time, their creativity blooms.  They learn to create their own happiness rather than relying on a screen to keep them entertained.  They come to understand that the world does not exist to revolve around them, but they exist to explore, enjoy and brighten the world.

Breathe easy moms and dads. Embrace boring as a blessing instead of a battle cry.  "I'm bored" is not your cue to jump into action and provide entertainment.  It doesn't have to be the preamble to an an afternoon of binge-watching Disney movies.  It's your invitation to sit back and watch the opportunity unfold. It might be messy.  It will probably be silly.  There might be tears. But there might also be spontaneous underwear parades through the house.  And THAT is something you won't want to miss.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Kindergarten 101: The Secret to Picking the Best School

If you have a 4 or 5-year old, spring time means you're on the brink of a big decision.  Come fall, your kiddo will be entering the "real world" of school and you are tasked with picking the very best place for your precious little one to bloom and grow.

Awesome, tree-hugging experiences with my son's school.
Around these parts, I think we are blessed with an array of choices.  Neighborhood schools, charter schools, and home school choices abound.  How is a parent to make sense of all the variety?  How do we pick the right place for a 5-year old, without really knowing what type of human they will blossom into during the next 6-8 years?

Truth is, we take a guess and hope for the best . Because we don't really know, do we?  We could shuttle our kid across town to attend a school focused on performing arts, and they may bloom into a bookworm with no interest in center stage.  We could go for the convenience of our neighborhood school and realize that our kids' gift for science and inquiry is slowly being stifled.

As a parent that has agonized over this decision, let me reveal to you the honest truth I have learned about school choice.  There is no such thing as the perfect school. Nope.  Doesn't exist.

If parents accept this truth, I think we can approach this kindergarten conundrum with a tad less anxiety.  Our kids aren't perfect, and schools have flaws.  Our job is not to make our kid's educational experience perfect.  Our job is to find a good fit for our child.  And then, and this is an important point that many parents miss, invest in that classroom, that school, and that child as if our future depended on it. does.

Communities are not improved because parents stick their kids in the right school and they grow up to be great adults.  Communities grow and thrive because citizens roll up their sleeves and dedicate themselves to the hard and important work of making life rich, positive and productive. 

Abundant cultural opportunities,
like the Chinese Moon Festival,
at my daughter's school
So if you think picking the "perfect" school is the pinnacle of your involvement in making sure your kid gets a good education, please think again.  Picking a school is merely the launch pad for your new career of being an advocate, volunteer, donor, and friend for the community you have chosen for your family.

Our family is blessed to have kids attending two very great schools.  Really, they are both far above average in so many ways.  But I'm going to tell you, after being in the trenches for a few years, that neither is perfect.  My daughter's school has a dizzying array of performing arts, and a mind-blowing playground that will knock your socks off, but they also bury kids with (IMHO) an obscene amount of homework.  My son's school that boasts a hands-on, science-focused curriculum with small class sizes and a true "family feel", also lacks a library or a cafeteria facility.  I could go on, if my goal was to nit-pick.  But it's not.

My goal is to reassure parents that even the most shiny, new, modern school may not be the utopia you imagined as you attended kindergarten round-up with your little one.  Truly, the school is what you make of it.  As parents our job is not to stand on the sidelines and whine about the disappointments we have because our kids' school isn't perfect.  Or to move our kid from school to school to school because we don't like this or that.

Our job as parents is to understand that schools are run by humans, and are inherently varied, wonderful and flawed all at once.  The perfect school choice does not exist.  So please take a deep breath, relax and know that NO choice you make for your child will be without doubt, conflict or challenge.

However, if we approach our relationship with our children's school, much as we approach our relationship with our children themselves, how might that look?  Would we use kinder words when speaking with the school secretary?  Would we voice our concerns directly with the administration instead of slamming school policies on Facebook?  Would we ask to hear the teacher's side of the story first before defending our child's behavior?  Would we realize that what we put INTO the relationship is tightly correlated with what we (and our children) get OUT of the relationship?

Breathe easy kindergarten parents.  Perfection is no longer your goal.  You're just entering into a new relationship.  It will be messy, surprising, exciting, challenging and beautiful.  Your satisfaction and your child's success has less to do with making the "right" choice and more to do with the care and feeding of the relationship itself.

The best school for your kid is the one to which you give your best.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Camp Love

My wonderful friend Tina just wrote a book.  And I am super excited (and a little humbled) to tell you that the dedication in the book was written to me.  Little old me.  I've been dying to share this news, because....well geez, how often does someone dedicate their blood sweat and tears in your honor? One reviewer described the book as a "Love letter to all things camp."  Since Tina and I met at camp, and she dedicated the book to me, I like to think it is also a love letter to me.  (-; I doubt I'll ever be able to return the favor of dedicating a novel to Tina, so here is the second best thing.  It's my love letter to All Things Tina.

I met Tina in the summer of 1995.  I had just graduated from San Francisco State University and took a job as the Summer Program Director at Mt. Cross, a Lutheran camp in the Santa Cruz mountains.  Tina, one year younger than me, was working at Mt. Cross as the Support Staff Director.  My job entailed keeping the college-aged counselors in line and making sure the program was running safely and efficiently  Tina's job entailed supervising the high school-aged dishwashers and lifeguards and mediating the related drama that popped up throughout the summer.

My first impression of Tina was how different we were.  I went to school in one of the most trendy metro areas on the west coast.  Tina was attending college somewhere in the middle of a Nebraska corn field.  I was single, newly graduated, and determined to conquer the world as an independent Woman of the Nineties (WOTN as we came to call it). Tina was in a tired relationship with some guy back home who did not (in my expert opinion) suit her, and she seemed more concerned about what kind of husband she would land than what kind of career she would pursue.  (Helloooo, Woman of the Fifties) I slept in as late as possible every morning while Tina would get up early to go on a run. I came to work at Mt. Cross because I loved camp.  She came to work at Mt. Cross because she loved Jesus.  Maybe a little too much, I remember thinking at the time.  To be clear, I loved Jesus too....just wasn't my driving force at the time.

As different as we appeared on paper, something clicked between Tina and I while we shared a grungy dorm room that summer. Something significant.  I don't think either of us would make it as a stand-up comedian, but we could make each other laugh with even the most minimal effort.  Somewhere between the daily campfires,  early morning staff meetings, late night card games, the many camp songs, ridiculous skits, and weekends lounging at the beach, we became fast friends. 

There's something about friendships that are born at camp.  When you spend 24 hours a day working side by side with people, you get to see them at their very best and their very worst.  You see them dressed in goofy costumes for theme dinners, and you see their ridiculous bed head when they roll into the dining hall for breakfast and didn't have time to shower.  The inside jokes become plentiful, and practical jokes eventually follow.  You share quiet moments and raw prayers around the sacred ground of a campfire, and you stay up until ungodly hours of the morning laughing, talking, cooking, creating, crying, or playing spades. 

Sometimes you wonder to yourself if you would be friends with these people outside of camp.  Many times the obvious answer is "No."  In the real world we pick our companions carefully.  We tend to gravitate toward people who are just like us, don't ruffle our feathers, and share the same temperament. But at camp, our choices are limited.  We are stuck in the woods with a colorful cast of characters from different walks of life, highly overworked, grossly underpaid and surrounded by homesick little kids and hormonal pre-teens.  It's really a recipe for disaster, but somehow camp serves as an incubator for some of the deepest and most long-lived friendships of your life.

Waiting for my flight back to California, 1997.
Remember when you could wait at the gate with your friends?! Sigh. 
After Tina and I said goodbye to each other at the end of that summer, we continued to keep in touch.  Back in those days, it was mostly through snail mail letters and expensive long distance phone calls.  She and her college roommate came out to visit the next spring and we took an epic road trip down the coast of California on scenic Highway 1, fueled by chocolate, Doritos, and the soundtrack for Reality Bites. After Tina graduated and took her first teaching job in Houston, I flew out to experience my first dose of Texas. When Tina got married, I was a bridesmaid.  When I got married she was a bridesmaid.  And years later I came to Houston again to be Tina's home helper and personal chef while she was pregnant with twins and sentenced to bed rest. Every visit included planning for our next chance to get together.

During this visit to Houston while Tina was (hugely) pregnant with twins, our friendship hit a fork in the road.  After 12 years of holding together this friendship over thousands of miles, and Tina on the cusp of being a mother of three children under the age of three, the future of our friendship seemed in jeopardy.  I realized, with a substantial amount of dread, that being a mother of multiples would make Tina's life about 1,000 times more complicated.  I saw the writing on the wall that her priorities would shift.  Phone calls would not get returned, emails would be brief and sporadic, finances would be too tight to fund occasional trips to California, and we would slowly drift toward the kind of friends that kept in touch once a year with an annual Christmas card.

I remember sitting with Tina and her husband Mike on the eve of my departure, at a quaint restaurant somewhere in downtown Houston, and quietly saying, "This is going to be the first time I'll say goodbye to you without knowing when I'll see you again."

Taking a deep breath, and I think with some dust in her eye, Tina replied, "Yes.  I know.  That's why we want you and Nick to be God Parents for our twins."

And there it was...the door to the next phase of our friendship, and the glue that would hold us together.  Because for both of us, God Parent was an important title.  And a relationship we couldn't walk away from.

Tina and I at Bridal Veil Falls, 2015
A few years later, when we asked Mike and Tina to be God Parents for our son, they didn't just say "Yes" and send a card for his Baptism.  They bought plane tickets for themselves AND their four children (one still an infant) and brought the family to California in the middle of snow storm to be present for his Baptism.

I flew east to help celebrate Tina's 40th birthday.  They flew west to join us for family vacations at Disneyland and Yosemite.

And so it went.  And so it will go.

Now days, when we visit with each other and reach the inevitable day of goodbyes, I still don't know when we'll meet again.  But I have faith that it will happen.  We've stuck together from college age through middle age.  I don't see any reason to stop now.  Because we are Forever Friends.

This is most certainly true. 

Footnote: Tina is an author focused on spreading the love of God through her writing. Her most recent book, Last Summer at Eden, is a young adult novel that one reviewer so aptly described as, "A love letter to all things camp."  While I read it, I found myself aching for the beauty, simplicity and intimacy you can only experience spending a summer working at camp. If you have a young person (or a camp person) in your life, I suggest you buy them this book.  My favorite part is the dedication page.  But the rest is pretty good too.

Monday, February 27, 2017

All Aboard!

A few years ago, we started a new tradition in our family.  Each year on their birthday, we give the kids a choice.  They can have a birthday party and invite their friends to play and indulge in obscene amounts of sugar, or we can go on a family trip.  No, this doesn’t include Disneyland.  And yes, they did ask.  If they pick a trip, it’s a quick, weekend location that we can drive to easily, stay overnight and do something fun.

Every year my daughter picks a party.  She’s social.  She loves being the hostess and the center of attention.

And every year my son picks a trip.  He’s adventurous and loves exploring new places.  For the past two years his choice has been the Railroad Park Resort in Dunsmuir, CA.

Dunsmuir?  Yes. 
Around here when we head north for recreation, people usually set their sights on Mt. Shasta.  I’ve got nothing against Mt. Shasta.  But Dunsmuir does has some family fun that is often overlooked. Where else can you sleep in a real train car converted into a quaint hotel room?


Well, maybe not nowhere. But nowhere else within an hour’s drive, that’s for sure.
Our kids love this place.  Because, did I mention the sleeping in a train part?  The rooms are cozy but comfortable.  They are stocked with the basics including a small fridge, coffee maker and microwave.  There is wi-fi available, but it’s painfully slow, so I recommend unplugging and enjoying the breathtaking view of Castle Crags just outside your window. The pool is refreshing in the summer, and the hot tub does not disappoint on cold winter nights. In addition to the train car hotel rooms, there is a campground adjacent to the railroad cars and a cute restaurant (also housed in a real train car) but both are closed in the winter.  

Up close and personal with a big steam engine.
During our most recent visit we happened to bump into a woman named Mary and her cute little dog as we browsed the (obviously train themed) gift shop.  We struck up a conversation while watching my kids climb on the antique steam engine sitting outside the gift shop.  Turns out, Mary and her husband were in the process of purchasing the Railroad Park Resort.  I took the opportunity to tell her how much our family enjoys the resort, and also offered a few observations from the guest perspective....namely, some information that was missing or hard to find on the website, and a suggestion to offer Yaks Sticky Buns in the morning.  (Because...if you've got an attentive listener, I think you should always seize the opportunity to address the important issues.)  She shared some of their dreams and visions for the future of the resort including additional kid-friendly activities and perhaps even a new zip line course on the property.  

For the past 50 years, the Railroad Park Resort has been managed by the original owners.  It's a unique labor of love that is about to enter a new chapter.  As cool as it is to sleep in a train car, the new owners seem determined to make it even better for the kids and families that visit.  Bumping into the new owner on the eve of closing the deal was a bit like chatting with an expectant mother in the final days before her due date.  The anticipation was palpable and the dreams for this (re)birth were grandiose. 

At ages six and eight, I was starting to wonder if our kids would soon be losing interest in the Railroad Park Resort.  It seems impossible that they could transition so quickly from being utterly amazed to sleep in a train car to kind of bored with the "little kid" charm of this place.  But alas, many things change as kids grow up.  For now, they still love it.  And with the enthusiasm and fresh ideas of the new owners, I'm fairly certain we'll keep finding a reason to come back.  

Enthusiastic train lover in front of our hotel room.
Footnote: If you're visiting in the winter and wondering what there is to do in the area to keep your kids entertained, we recommend skating at the Siskiyou Ice Rink, hiking the quick trail to Hedge Creek Falls, or sledding at Bunny Flat.  And of course, Sticky Buns at Yaks. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Book Ladies

Anyone that knows my mom knows that she is a do-er.  She plans, organizes, orchestrates and makes things happen.  She doesn't sit around and think about what needs to be done, she rolls up her sleeves and does it, often recruiting her friends and family to help her out.

So when she retired about 10 years ago, she didn't wait for one of her friends to invite her to join their book club.  She started one of her own.

The group mostly consisted of other retired teachers and education-type people who have a little time on their hands and like to read.  And me.  I'm not sure if she invited me to participate out of obligation because I'm her daughter or because they needed someone to bring down the average age for the group.  Anyway, I joined.  Somewhat reluctantly, I became a faithful member of her little group of book bittys.

I think joining this group inadvertently became my personal transition activity, moving my relationship with my mom from semi-grumpy, know-it-all young daughter to semi-mature, mid-lifer.  Initially I agreed to join out of obligation to my mom, realizing she really had looked forward to creating such a group in her retirement years.  I didn't exactly have the extra time or burning desire to read extra books and discuss them with a bunch of ladies nearly twice my age, but I did it anyway.  My mom probably made a few sacrifices for me along the way, so I figured it was my chance to return the favor.  It was a novelty.  Honestly, it made me feel young to be one of the very few members still holding down a full time job.

During the first few years I approached the Book Club like a petulant child.  If someone picked a book I didn't care for, I skipped it. I listened to the discussion without participating much.  I ate dinner with the ladies without really engaging because I was there more out of obligation than desire.

When I got pregnant with my first child, the book ladies insisted on throwing me a baby shower.  I expected a cake, and maybe a few onesies.  Instead I got the royal treatment with food, party games and ridiculously generous gifts.

"Strange," I remember thinking to myself. "These ladies treat me like I'm a friend when I'm just the token young-gun of their club."

As the years went by, the group, and my interactions with them, evolved.  Gradually my relationships with these women oozed beyond the boundaries of our monthly book club meetings.  When I had another baby, they threw me another baby shower (even though I think that's technically against the rules).  When the mother of one member died, I attended the funeral and made cookies for the reception.  A few years back, one of them volunteered to come to my house to help my kids learn how to swim.  Once a (hand written!) thank you card arrived at my house expressing appreciation for my thoughtful choice of books.  Many of them have donated time and/or money to the non-profit that I coordinate. I no longer feel surprised when one of them asks me a thoughtful follow-up question about something we discussed at the previous month's meeting.  They are good listeners.

And good friends.

Eventually, when I hosted at my house I began to feel less put-out and more excited about cooking dinner for 8-10 people while locking my family in the TV room with a pizza. I started making an effort to read the books even when I didn't like them.  (Not always successful, but I tried.) I can't pinpoint the moment, but much like the imperceptible change from childhood to adulthood, I eventually came to feel I was a member of the group and not just the tag-along youngster.

Maybe it wasn't her intention, but my mom and her my book club taught me a great life lesson about how to be a participating member in a village of women.  There's more to it than following your friends on Facebook or texting as you wait in the carpool line at your kid's school.  The gradual ebb and flow of conversation and shared experience weaves a web of support and a relationship that just might be better and richer than the online version.

And so, my advice to women of my generation is this...Never pass up the opportunity to read a good book, or join up with a motley crowd, even if it includes your mother.

Also, don't let the title fool you.  "Retired" teachers still have a few lessons up their sleeve.