Sunday, May 30, 2010

Magic - It Isn't Complicated

the viscous slip of suntan lotion sliding into that space between armpit and ribcage (the spot I always miss)

the shock of cold water against humid skin as you dive with abandon

the thrill in your kid's eye as she plunges into the deep end for the first time this year

the brain freeze that comes with the first huge bite of shaved ice with syrup

the scent of chlorine, suntan lotion and hot sun filling your laundry room afterwards like a warm smile

the inky acrid smell of real charcoal and lighter fluid snaking into your nose

photo by Dave K Cooper

the first corn cob of the season popping its kernels between your teeth

the first firefly of the summer blinking in your front yard

the aural hip shake of bossa nova on the stereo making your shoulders shimmy, just a little

the quiet non-sounds marking a late May night - two people on their porch, rocking & humming & writing

here's where summer begins.  this magic - it's not complicated.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bad Case of Compassion

It's true - I've had a terrible case of compassion this week.

Bursting into tears left right & center - not only for sadnesses, but also for transitions, for big moments, even just for beautiful writing.

Historically speaking, I'm not the weepy one.  Or at least I wasn't. Then I did something that (I think) chemically altered my brain: I had a baby -  three of 'em, actually.  Not sure what neurochemical Molotov cocktail exploded there, but I find that as I grow into mothering, it has blown open my spirit to all the pain in the world - and now I take it on as my own.

I worry.  I hurt.  And yes, I cry. 

I hear about a missing mother on the news - her children left alone in the home, and I worry.  My heart breaks for the fear those kids are feeling.  I watch Law & Order, and my heart breaks for the kids whose parents are wiped out in the opening scenes.  (Yes I do I feel silly getting choked up in front of the TV, thankyouverymuch.)

This week I had friends share bad news, disappointments, frustrations - my head swirled with all that they were dealing with.  Heard news about the end of a marriage, and it broke my own heart into pieces.   Heard about a family hashing out their darkest secrets in court, and it hurt deep in my spirit.

In the run up to Easter, our pastor talked at length about the intersection of the Passion and compassion, and described to his listeners how mapping our lives on this model leads us to live a 'cross shaped life' as well.  He illustrated for us how
[...] It’s the sharing of the experience that transforms – and here we see the great cost in living this way, because to live in our guts, to feel with compassion inevitably means we will be changed, we won’t be the same. To take on another’s suffering and pain, to participate in it with them, to stand with them or attempt to share the experience with them means we will inevitably be changed. There’s no way we can go to such depths without it having some kind of impact upon us. And that scares us – rightfully so.

Regardless of your religion, if you 'go to the depths' with the people in your life - if you choose to feel deeply, to share the experience with them - you will be changed forever. Your heart will be marked by the suffering of others, but also it will be made strong - so strong.

It hurts, to bear the suffering of others.  At the very least, it is distracting.  But in an effort to live authentically, to live in honesty with those in my life, I think I want those pangs of compassion.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

my boy

he is my second-born.

he is my boy, sandwiched between two high-intensity girls.

he prioritizes peace over all things - handing over toys to his sisters, offering to read his book last, quietly disappearing in the midst of psychic storms until the thunderclouds pass.

he wrestles manfully with his emotions, pressing small fists into his eyes until he can control the tears.

he is the one still creeping into our room in the small hours, tucking his small body next to mine. when asked, all he'll say is 'i was a lil bit 'fraid. tha's all.'

he is a watcher, a studier, a builder.

he is profoundly shy - he never understands an adult has addressed him, assuming instead that they must be speaking to his charming older sister or his adorable younger one.

he is the one - my one - who owns my heart simply because he's never assumed it was his to own. (girls, when & if you ever read this, always know you own your own versions of my heart. this one, though, is all his.)

i don't buy the pomp & circumstance of preschool 'graduations' - not really. but this kid, the kid who has hated preschool almost every day he's gone for 2 years, who crowed 'I AM SO GLAD THIS IS THE LAST DAY OF PRESCHOOL!!!!!!!!!' - when i saw him walk with his class into the chapel, he gave me his shy smile and i knew.

i saw in an instant how he would go out into the world and charm it - make it his own. in his quiet way he will navigate the shoals of testosterone filled competition, he will be embarrassed by the attentions of girls, and someday he will show his teachers his bright quick wit.

in this small loving preschool graduation i saw all of his years ahead of him - i saw the teenager he will grow to be, the strong young man right there in his small five-year old body. in his small shy way, this was his Moment, whether he knew it or not. this was his moment to launch.

And I'm so proud I was there to see it.

love you, Larsie boy.  may your future be as rich as your mommy's dreams.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mix Tapes & Passing Notes. I'm Old.

I heard 'You've Got a Friend' on the radio tonight.  Not the James Taylor version, but the Housemartins cover.  This of course took me immediately to memories of a mix tape my college boyfriend made for me [hey Dustin!].

Made me think of all my mix tapes, down there in the basement - the only things that have made the cut after moves from dorm rooms, childhood homes, overseas adventures.  Most are from old boyfriends, and are more memories of the relationship than 42 dried up corsages.  There's one from my best friend when she knew I was feeling homesick my first semester away at college:  Divinyl's 'I Touch Myself' and Sonny & Cher's 'I Got You Babe.'  Then there's one my DJ friend Andrea sent to England for my 21st birthday - Hole, L7, Liz Phair, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Morphine.   

No one makes mix tapes anymore.  I suppose you can dream up a playlist, fill it with tunes for your intended, and if you're feeling super romantic you could even [gasp!] upload it for him/her.  But there's no way you can tell me that carries the same thrill as your biggest crush sidling up to you at your locker and slipping a cassette tape into your hand.  He'd talk to you through that skater fringe hanging over his eyes, slouching adorably, while he played it cool and told you he put some tunes on there he thought you'd like.

That little train of thought got me thinking about notes. Not the kind you take in American History I when you're trying to figure out the Louisiana Purchase.  I'm talking about the ones you scribble in tiny print on notebook paper, or in flowery cursive with the 'i's dotted with hearts and stars.  The ones when you tell your best friend all about how mortified you were when you had to go up front in algebra class and your One True Love was laughing with his friend the entire time - so much that they got detention - and you're completely freaked out that they were laughing at you.  Or maybe the kind of notes you scribbled back and forth during study hall, madly flirting with the senior next to you who normally never stopped to talk. 

So I guess kids don't write notes anymore either.  They can text, IM, Twitter - why would they waste time with scribbling on actual paper?  Here is the part where I hold my hands up, admit to getting old and grumpy & harking back to the good old days before romance was dead.  I guess I just can't conceive of a world where romancing your crush-worthy 15 yr old neighbor doesn't involve a little cassette work, a little note passing, a little effort.

All of this talk about ex-boyfriends, mix tapes and note writing has made me a little bit heartsick for the golden days of the late 80s.   But not to worry - there's a way to be Flashback Fabulous these days.   You too can peg the legs of your jeans now, without a hint of irony.  I saw a pair of pleat-front shorts in Target just this evening. And you too can order your own pair of blucher mocs from LL Bean, just like you could in 1987.  (You know, IF you suffer from East Coast Prepster envy like I do.) 

That, my friends, is just what I did this week.  My bluchers arrived this afternoon, and I fully intend to tie the laces into those tricky knots so I can slide 'em on & off all day long. No socks, of course.


Now, my seven-year old took one look at them and wrinkled her nose.   Oooh... those are pretty.... spunky. [she did not say this in a nice way]  Do they have to be so... LL Bean-y?  OH SNAP! I got told by my first grader.  

And just like that, I'm right back in the 21st century, old & grumpy, looking back at the glory days.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Bootcamp Effect

It's always a sign of a quality post to be able to start with a Wayne's World quote.  As Garth likes to say:  Let me tell you a little something I've learned about women...

I never was someone who operated in big groups of female friends - rarely did girls' nights out, never shopped in a pack at the mall, never had major pajama parties (apologies to the male fantasists out there.)  Instead, I tended to form close friendships - a tight group was more often my style.  As I matured through college and my early adult years, the number got even smaller. 

It has not been until recent years I've begun to understood the singular power of working within a group of women interested in what you do, not competing with what you do, wanting to encourage you in your efforts.  Shall we call it the Bootcamp Effect?

Three mornings a week, at Stupid O' Clock, I go to a Fitness Bootcamp.  I only knew one person there, when I started in January, but something about the class drew me in.  It isn't competitive - other women there cheer you on as you finished your set of wind sprints, other women are there to joke with about jump roping and birthing three kids [if you get it, you get it], other women are there to inspire you as they burn through a set of plank stands without quivering.  It is not about looking your best at 6 in the morning - it is about pushing your body to be its best.

Then in March I attended a Baltimore event called Bloggy Bootcamp.  It was designed on the same principles:  through meeting up with, and talking to other bloggers, we would somehow inspire each other, push each other, make each other better.  There were 100 bloggers in the room - all of us with individual goals, unique passions, varying 'angles'.  But all of us were there to push ourselves to be our best.

Here's what we need to know: there is power in a group of women.   It is a power that takes the positive, supportive energy that women seem so naturally to tap into, and that power then seems to generate more effort - more creativity - more strength, and not only that, it motivates us to continue.  To come back for the next workout, to post the next post even though only your grandmother and your OB/GYN read that last one.

This weekend, I attended a Momzshare event, and the same thing hit me:  this is a group of women who want nothing from me but to know that I am pursuing my passion.  That I am in pursuit of authenticity.  There is power in that, and that is the "little something" you need to know about women:  we can work together to make it incredible.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Family that Strips Together Stays Together

Remember when I posted the tragical statistic of couples only getting 30 minutes a WEEK of quality communication? Remember how I asked just when would a couple find any more time that than, faced with the overwhelming task of just staying on top of the family occupations?

Well today Mr NilsenLife and I had a hot date.  We decided we'd go ahead and strip on our front porch. Way to spice things up, right?

It's an old house - ninety plus, actually - and needs a little cosmetic work.  This spring, the project is stripping the paint on the front porch, columns and trim, and prepping it for repainting.  Can't say that the prospect filled either of us with joy:  how to execute a huge task and at the same time keep small people out of lead paint dust and caustic stripping chemicals?

Cue the generous offer of Grandparental Babysitting, and we were faced with an entire day - a beautiful, 70-degree spring day with nothing but the two of us, a can of paint stripper, and a scraping tool called a Five-Way.  (Kinky bunch, those housepainters.)

So 9am found us out on the porch, scraping away.  Our getup for the hot date consisted of paint-covered jeans, old tshirts, and my hair scraped back under a hat.  Didn't matter.  We spent our morning working quietly, side-by-side, concentrating on scraping and chipping.  By 11:00, though, we'd hit our stride:  we chatted about football and the World Cup, about blog posts and the mystery of site traffic, and by the time we got towards 4:00 the conversations had moved on to Big Ticket Items - the topics that never come up in your normal week, due in large part to sheer exhaustion.  

We ate lunch together on the steps - spicy salami, pickles & cheddar on baguette.  We took turns checking Facebook to see what was going on in the world. (Answer? not much.) We scheduled an iced coffee break, and even had a little impromptu break dance session when the Beastie Boys came on the stereo. (Aw yeah the girl can shake it. Uh huh uh huh...)  There was a well-deserved beer towards the end of the afternoon.

Ask an old married couple - ask 'em what they would love to do if they had an entire day together.  Chances are they might say something along the lines of "a chance for a whole conversation.  A good meal together.  Drinking coffee.  Dancing.  Re-living old times."

That, my friends, is exactly what we did today.  I had a whole day of romance, a whole day of connection, a whole day of good times with my best friend.  Hot date indeed.  I'll strip with you any day, babe.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Presentibil, and not stout. Whew.

The pool opens in 9 days.  It's fair to say I'm assessing the 'damage'  from the winter - the long days of snowbound inactivity, the many chili meals, the accompanying beers.   As usual, I judge, and find myself sorely lacking.  (Or sorely 'over-endowed' as the case may be. Yikes.)

There've been a few extra workouts in recent weeks.

So I'm talking to Cecilie on a walk yesterday, and she asks me if an female acquaintance of ours would be considered "stout."  After swallowing a smile, I demurred - well, not stout exactly.  I think she's probably just about like me.

My eldest - my biggest fashion critic, the one who paid me the compliment of being 'Presentibil' on Mother's Day - stopped short, aghast:  Mommy!  You're not stout! You're not even the stoutiest bit stout!

I think I'll keep her.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


My eldest goes from zero to FREAKOUT in under 4 seconds.  Might be that she can't have a playdate, might be that her siblings took the last vanilla yogurt, might be that I ask her to clean up dolls when she was STILL PLAYING WITH THEM. (I know, the nerve.)

Her voice drops an octave or two and she begins to shout.  She blows her growing-out-bangs out of her eyes and yells at the top of her voice.  The noise might be directed at her brother, her baby sister, her dad or me - one never knows.

The problem with this is that once she freaks out, I go from zero to MAD in the same time frame. 

I know it doesn't change a blessed thing when I get bent out of shape too.  Many are the nights when I go to her room, smooth her hair as she sleeps, and whisper my apologies - again and again.  But combine life with a tantrum-y two year old, an existence of not enough sleep and too many bills, and still three hours to go until their bedtime?  I return to mad almost every time.

Tuesday afternoon began the classic set-up:  a tough day at school, a missed playdate, and a brother sitting in Exactly. The. Spot. on the rug where she had been PLANNING TO SIT!!!!!!!!!!! 

In the next second, I did something I'd rehearsed in my mind over and over:  I very quietly called her over to me.  I looked her in the eye.  And I pulled her onto my lap.

I pulled my tall, lean seven year old onto my lap, her impossibly long legs dangling right down to the floor.  I smoothed her hair, I kissed her cheeks, and I whispered into her ear:  Sweetheart.  Cecilie.  I don't let anyone in our house talk to me that way.  Why would it be ok for you to talk to us that way?  Just tell me what you want.  Please - just tell me quietly what it is you want.

It was like the moment you switch off an old tv: the ping! as the cathode rays fade?  The anger slid right out of her body, and I felt her slump against me, leaning her head on my shoulder.

She let me cuddle her twenty seconds more, and then hopped off my lap to run and hug her sister - storm clouds vanished, furrowed brow smooth. 

I sat in shock.

What was that? What just looked into my eyes and insisted you will be gentle with your girl this time?  What was it that moved my heart to offer love to my girl instead of the fear of her anger?

Grace.  Grace gave me that chance.

On Tuesday morning, I knew I wanted to write a post about grace.  I knew that I wanted to somehow write about grace but was downright nervous about trying to explain my admittedly vague understanding of what grace means.

That Tuesday afternoon, I finally knew grace.  I finally lived a moment of grace.  Every single aspect of your life becomes different when you view it through the profoundly powerful prism of grace.

This is posted as part of Bridget Chumbley's One Word at a Time series, with the prompt of Grace.   Of all of them, this topic has been the trickiest - and the most real.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The One Word I Never Said

Two college students - kids, really -  laid on the floor, hashing over their future once again.  It involved two continents, the end of a Bachelor's Degree and the beginning of a Masters, and a lot of anxiety about soulmates. 

I have to know.  I just have to KNOW, you know.  What are we trying to do here?

I love you, Kirsten.  I'll do whatever you want to do. I just know that I want to marry you.

Well that's all well and good, but how can you SAY that without KNOWING what we're going to DO  next year?  (What can I say? I'm a girl who likes to know The Plan.)  I just have to KNOW what it is we're planning on.  I mean, how can you say you KNOW you want to marry me but you don't KNOW when?  How?  Where?

and so on.  Around and around and around we went that night - a quiet December night in suburbia - two kids laying on the floor in my childhood bedroom.   We were either headed far apart, or headed for together from here on out.

What I remember was my voice, growing in stridency as I demanded to KNOW what was going to happen.  I wanted to KNOW how he was so sure of himself.  I remember, actually, feeling increasingly irritated with his implacability.

And finally, there was this:  Well Kirsten, then let's just get married.  Let's just get married.

This stopped me short.  I was mid-sentence - in full stride with theoreticals, full of planning, full of options.  I hadn't expected that phrase - not at all.

And just like a sail going limp on a calm sea, my words stopped.  I turned over on my elbow and demanded to know if he was serious.  Demanded.

Of course, he said simply.  Of course I'm serious.

There was no ring.  There was no elaborately crafted proposal speech.  There were no harps on the mountain at dawn, there was not even a down-on-one-knee.   We were barely adults, barely launched in the world, and all we knew was that we were going to head out into the void together.

We stared at each other - astounded that such a momentous decision had been made in the Laura Ashley chintz-covered bedroom of my teen years - and were absolutely certain that no other decision could have been made that night.

We went to the movies then, saw the Harrison Ford version of Sabrina, and came home giggling about the fact that he'd have to ask my dad for his blessing.

It wasn't until I was falling asleep that night that I realized:  the one word I never said was Yes.

Yes, Nilsen - for every night since then, I say Yes.


This post is linked as part of the final prompt - YES - in Momalom's Five for Ten series.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tonight I'm Gonna Get Some...

Tonight I'm going to get some.  I just know it.

When you're a kid, and you listen carefully when they least expect it, you hear adults murmuring about not getting enough. How deprived they are.  Of course you don't understand - you don't really get what they keep talking about.

When you're a teenager, you get plenty of it, there's no such thing as enough.  Any time of day, any time of night - works for you.  And then of course your mom busts into your bedroom and ruins everything.

As an adult, things ease off.  You are getting a civilized amount - if required, you can go without for a day or two, but never more than that.  You're able to get as much as you feel you need.

Then come the desperate years when all of the sudden, you're getting NONE.  A snatched bit here & there, but the void - the lack - becomes your total obsession.  You find yourself thinking about it all day, all night.  Sometimes you think you honestly might do it right there on the street - it's that bad.

They're intense, those years.  But it eases off, the obsession, and before you know it, you're getting enough some weeks, not enough in others.  You understand you won't die if you don't get it, but you also understand now there is nothing else under the sun that makes you lust in the same way.


I'm talking about sleep.  You got that, right? I'm talking about sleep.  Get your minds out of the gutter.


This post is linked as part of Momalom's Five for Ten series - the fourth prompt was, obviously, LUST.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dinner Party

Nine adults, sitting around a table, chatting ... laughing. 

Our hosts have done this before - they move as a seamless team, offering chairs, filling water glasses, pulling chicken off the grill.

Stories are traded, jokes are made, gentle observations offered.

Watcher that I am, I listen carefully, and keep quieter than usual.  I enjoy the fact that no one is spilling milk, demanding their Lamby fork, or bolting their food so they can go biking. 

My husband makes an inadvertent joke that gets the biggest guffaws of the evening, and I catch his eye across the table.  I give him the smallest of winks, the one that says 'you make me laugh the most.'

I listen as two of the couples tell stories of their weddings - weddings that happened before I was born.  I watch as our host smiles at his wife's story - he doesn't let on if he's heard it before - the smile is almost internal.  Another couple laughs in the exact same spot in a story, and both shake their heads ruefully - they could be sharing the same thought bubbles if they were in a comic strip.

I am startled, all of the sudden, by the realization that I am watching these couples, these old friends, cement their relationship in the quotidien.  I see the map showing where a lifetime together will take you - to a friend's dinner table, where you will finish one of your husband's jokes, and laugh at another one, and sit quietly in the confidence of his arm around the back of your chair. 

I want that, the Watcher whispered to herself.  I want that, for my best friend and I.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Just a quick post to let you know where you can find some NilsenLife Love.

I am so excited to let you know that the brilliant & inspiring minds over at Classic Play have published another issue!  It's online, it's completely free, and it is nothing less than... beautiful.  The Editor's Note this time is particularly inspiring, so I encourage you to click on over and check it out:

(oh, and also - I'm a contributor.  Such an honor to be part of a really lovely production.  You can check out my article here.)

And then I'm delighted to share with you a wonderful blog - Diane's Words - written by the fascinating and incredibly thoughtful mom of one of my Facebook friends. Diane asked if she could repost my Is it Happy, or is it Joy post, and of course I was downright happy - nay, joyful! - to share. 

And finally, just thought I would share the happy news that my post on Faithfulness was usefully employed by an old friend (hey Dave!) in a recent wedding ceremony.  Knowing Dave, I can only imagine that his riff on it added a whole new angle [ahem], but I was delighted to offer something approaching wisdom to a lovely newlywed couple.  

So there you have it, folks.  Spreading the love, and getting it all back in return.  It's a beautiful world.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Leopards, spots, those sorts of things...

What you don't hear about, when reading a post, is all of the discussion here at the Yellow House about whatever the day's topic is.  My most faithful editor and sounding board is back for a guest-post.  I give you... The Dad of NilsenLife!

I hear there's been some musing over ex-boyfriends and the like. I'll state up front that it surely is not my place to defend an ex-boyfriend, certainly not one I have never met, but for the record: I too am an ex-boyfriend.

A very good friend - possibly the nicest man alive - mentioned to me one day, as we were watching our little girls playing, that he already had an eye on THE BOYS who played with his daughters.  He made the point that the guys he knew in college who didn't treat girls right back then, are in fact mean guys to this day. That a leopard doesn't change his spots.

Here I am - in my thirties, with a beautiful wife and family - none gained through treating girls wrong.  But I was that guy - the guy who didn't notice a heart breaking, who left a breakup note behind as I went on vacation, the guy who failed to wake up for breakfast dates  - and no, Kirsten hasn't forgotten about that one!

I might have come across, at times of my life, as thoughtless, inconsiderate, yes even rude.  But I like to think that maybe life's tougher lessons may have smoothed some of the rough spots - that maybe I wasn't the greatest guy in other relationships, but that I've learned a few of the lessons it takes to be one of the Good Guys.

I still, on occasion, might fail to notice the effort that has gone into a date night "get-up."  I still don't always say the MOST thoughtful thing I can think of. Tonight is not the night to right all the wrongs: all I'm saying is that we (those ex-boyfriends) can mellow out, ease up, pull ourselves together and become net contributors (relatively speaking) given a chance, or two, or three.

It's 3.12 a.m.

When you crawl into bed at 11.45, you know it will be a rough start in the morning.  But you optimistically switch on the alarm, intent on getting a run in at 6 before the house starts waking up.

Your legs twist around your husband's, and you sleepily yawn g'night  as the warmth of legs and the duvet surrounds you.  You close your eyes, weary from the early start that morning.

And you lie there.  Awake.

At 2.49 you finally open your eyes, knowing that forcing them to stay closed isn't doing the trick.  At 3.12 you open the laptop, knowing that the morning will not only be rough, it will be downright painful.

It's my genetic birthright, this sleeplessness.  As a child we would tiptoe around my grandfather napping on the couch (the very couch now residing in my living room!) and overhear discussion about how he just didn't sleep at night.  As a teenager I'd meet my dad on the stairs in the morning, asking us to please be quiet as we readied ourselves for school, because mom had been up in the night.

Up til now, I can count on one hand the times I've woken in the middle of the night, unable to sleep.  For me, it is always the getting to sleep that eludes.  I lie still, hoping to force my body into rest.  Sometimes it works.  Tonight, it did not. 

Am rumpled in spirit.  Rumpled in spirit, and perhaps feeling the pain of the world a little too keenly.  

Anyone got any tricks for setting down the weight of the world, just for a night?  This Desperate Housewife could use them.

It's 3.29 a.m.   Do you know where your sanity is?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty...

There's not really a cool way to say this, so I'm just going to dive in:  I felt beautiful today.

Now, I just clicked through 4692 photos taken today that say otherwise - in the photos I saw the Me that I see most days. The Me that has taken a bit of a beating in recent years - the Me with dark shadows, weird skin, and more double chin than I'd like to see.  The Me that has clearly had far too many short nights, far too many early mornings, and just a few too many glasses of wine.  The Me that hasn't had enough time to work out, and way too much time sitting still during potty training (them, not me.)

Nonetheless:  today I really felt like one of the prettiest girls at the party.

It wasn't my outfit - although it was just fine. It wasn't my makeup - although I did take the time to put on eyeliner.  (Woot!)  Sure as heck wasn't my genetically cursed hair.

You know what? It wasn't even just me that noticed.  An acquaintance stopped me after church and told me that I looked 'just radiant' today.

Then, later, I got an email from a friend (one who'd also been at church).  It said "you...and your family positively radiate love. It makes me smile."  And the light bulb clicked on. 

The thing is, it wasn't anything physical about me that looked at all different today.  What was different about today is that I went out into the world knowing in the deepest parts of my heart that I am loved - and that equally, I have a tremendous amount of love to give.   

This has transformed me in ways entirely unreachable by any plastic surgeon's instrument, and in ways entirely unaltered by losing ten pounds or by purchasing a new dress.

Love has changed me - it has made me beautiful in all the ways that matter.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sunshine..on my shoulders...

It was a beautiful week here in Maryland.  Breezy, sunny, highs between 75-80 degrees.

As I hauled my kids out of the bath tonight, it was easy to see on their skin just how we'd spent our week:  I spotted a tan line from a flip flop, a strap from a tank top, and noted how much browner Lars' calves were than his thighs.

What we have here, folks, is evidence of shabby parenting.   Akin to failing to brush teeth twice a day, failing to get vaccines on time,  or forgetting to buckle the top buckle on the carseat's 5-point harness.

As an Officially Shabby Parent, I am unrepentant.  (About the suntans, I mean. Not the other stuff. That I feel terrible about. And I only forgot the buckle once.) But like I said - UNREPENTANT.

I believe in a child's unalienable right to climb trees first thing in the morning, even before breakfast.  I believe in a child's unalienable right to ride their bike around and around and around in the cul-de-sac until they are dizzy.  I believe in a child's unalienable right to run from the slides to the swings to the monkey bars and back again.  I believe in a child's unalienable right to spend their days outside.

I will do my part.  I will purchase sunscreen with an SPF 70, knowing this is a far cry from the Sea 'N Ski SPF 4 that I used to resist as a kid.  I will slather noses and ears and shoulders as best as I am able.  I will buy hats, keep track of said hats, and jam the hats on heads over and over and over.  I will show the kids the wrinkles gathering above my knees, and tell them my skin is protesting the career of a teenage lifeguard.

When they are a little older, I will tell them about Jill and Betsy.  These are two friends of mine, two bloggers: two women whose lives are changed forever by failing to understand the damage the years of burning/peeling/burning again can inflict.  You can read Jill's (aka Scary Mommy's) post here, and Betsy's post here.  They make for very sober reading.

And in the morning, I will send my kids out to play.  I will remember the sunscreen at the last moment - I may even have to call them back indoors to get slathered up - but they will take their natural-born place amongst the branches of the cherry tree, in the middle of the sandbox,  at the top of the slide.

How else are they going to perfect the art of being kids?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is it Happy, or is it JOY?

Happiness is getting your three-mile run in on the treadmill.
Joy is early-morning running in the woods, watching the sun rise in front of you.

Happiness is watching your daughter onstage in her ballet recital.
Joy is watching your daughter twirl by herself in the backyard.

Happiness is hearing your toddler giggle with her 2-year old buddy.
Joy is making her giggle yourself.

Happiness is hearing on the phone that your husband will be home early.
Joy is him walking through the door early, as a surprise.

Happiness is dropping off your preschooler at school without a fuss.
Joy is when he proudly leads you to the gym for the Mothers Day Luncheon.

Happiness is sleeping through the night.
Joy is sleeping through the night, then waking up & realizing your kids are at your parents', and going back to sleep UNTIL NINE O'CLOCK.

Happiness is a new pair of jeans.
 Joy is putting on an old pair of jeans that fit perfectly, straight out of the dryer.

Happiness is a cute pair of flats.
 Joy is your favorite pair of boots, the ones that have traveled 1000s of miles, 3 continents, 2 dormitories and 5 homes.

Happiness is a mailbox with no bills.
Joy is a mailbox filled with a lumpy box that can only mean Care Package.

Happiness is making a new friend on Facebook.
Joy is finding out you can be friends in real life.

Happiness is the sound of coffee dripping into the pot.
Joy is the first sip of the first cup.

Happiness is the mashed potatoes.
Joy is the gravy.

Happiness is a walk in the park.
Joy is finding a climbing tree when you're there and getting to the tippy top branch.

Happiness is the moment.
Joy is the journey.


This post is a [very late] submission to Bridget Chumbley's One Word at a Time Blog Carnival.  I've done Kindness, Patience, Faithfulness and Self Control so far, and I have to say Joy was one I was looking forward to.  Check it out - the pursuit of Joy is always fruitful.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lemon-Scented Teaching

As the daughter of a teacher, as the grand daughter of teachers, as the great-granddaughter of teachers, you'd think I'd be a little more tuned in to showing some appreciation to my own kids' teachers.

You'd think.

But generally speaking I'm the one turning up at the last-day-of-school festivities thinking 'cripes! wish I'd gotten a card!'  I'm the one wrapping a Christmas gift for the teacher on December 27 and dropping it off at the school office in the hopes our teacher checks in over the holidays.  You will laugh and think I am making this up, but in all honesty & humility I can confirm that I did wrap and give the Best Teacher Ever ornament to Cecilie's preschool teacher this Christmas - two years late.

But tomorrow is my big chance to make things right.  By the sheer luck of having Head of PTA Hospitality up my street, I figured out that it is Teacher Appreciation Week, and am sending in some coffee cake for the teachers' breakfast.

But not just any coffee cake.

Currently the intoxicating scent of Lemon-Rosemary Crumb Cake is wafting through the kitchen, and the hubs is hinting that maybe the teachers don't need two cakes.  Maybe, he suggests, they'd be just as happy with Dunkin' Donuts.

They might, I reply, but I think my karma owes the teachers this crumb cake.

If the idea of rosemary in a sweet coffee cake makes you nervous, turn away from the fear. Really. This combo is just....transcendent.   The cake is not-too-sweet, but yet not overly wholesome or earnest either.  (Sounds like the description of a great friend, actually, instead of baked goods!)  It is nothing less than perfection when paired with a cup of Earl Grey tea, but also extremely nice with a plain ol' cup of coffee.  If you felt that the recipe was leading you in a dessert-y sort of direction, I would be the last person to argue that a well-placed dollop of lemon curd was de trop. (Or, OR! Blend that lemon curd with mascarpone, and you might not emerge until the pan was empty.)

In the interests of copyright protection and brevity, I'll give you the list of ingredients here and ask you to head on over to the official link for further direction.  I give you.....

Lemon-Rosemary Crumb Cake


  • 1 1/4  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 2/3  cup  sugar
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  cup  chilled stick margarine or butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4  teaspoon  minced fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2  teaspoon  baking powder
  • 1/4  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1/3  cup  low-fat buttermilk
  • 2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
  • 1  large egg
  • Cooking spray
  • 2  teaspoons  grated lemon rind
  • 3/4  teaspoon  water
  • Rosemary sprigs (optional)
  • Lemon slices (optional)
Run off and make this now, you busy bakers.  It is incredibly easy in its lemony goodness, and a sure-fire karma fixer.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!!

P.S. A happy coincidence occurred on Twitter last night.  As I tweeted about making Lemon Rosemary Crumb Cake, A Southern Fairy Tale was tweeting about making Lemon Blackberry Coffee Cake for the teachers in her little part of Texas. Seems like lemon is the flavor of choice when it comes to teachers.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Front Porch

It was the end of a long stupid week.  Not tragic, not incredibly stressful, just lots of silly mistakes and parenting mis-steps.  

The kids went to bed hot and grumpy, despite the gift of a weekend visit from their beloved Farmor, and I was so happy to shut the door on their bedroom and whisper Good night Nilsen kids, I love you. (and then whisper under my breath so much more than I showed you this week.)

The week had ended with more of a whimper than a bang - we missed our usual rowdy Friday night happy hour with neighbors, and both of us were feeling out of sorts. 

Then, out on our porch, we heard footsteps, and the front door cracking open.  Friends, unsure of the end of bedtime but certain of an unlocked door, were stopping by to end the week with us.  They'd shipped their kids off to grandparents, and at 9pm all four of us were ready to imagine a life of finished sentences, fresh new ideas, and sleeping in.  (I did say 'imagine.')

We poured some gin, splashed some tonic, and went back out the door to the front porch, and an almost-hot night.  In the dim light of a spring evening the peeling paint wasn't obvious, the flickering lanterns we lit added a vague charm, and for the briefest of moments, the four of us sat quietly listening to the spring peepers. 

Then we talked - late into the night - about plot lines for Larry David, bike lanes in our town, public school shenanigans, why rich people have handlers (do the handlers floss for the "handled"??) and other pipe dreams, large and small.  We dabbled a little in public policy, we reminisced a little about past triumphs.  

The gin was refreshed, the tumblers sweated, and still we talked. Rocked in the big white rockers on the front porch, and let the ideas pour out of our mouths as if Monday was at least a month away.

It wasn't the sort of night that will change a person's life.  But it was exactly the sort of evening that reminds you that life can be measured in the small moments - the moments celebrated with beat-up tumblers of gin, rockers coated with the pollen of 98 trees, and friends who will find the same contentment in a warm evening, cold drinks, and a few mismatched lanterns. 

We set our worlds to right, on Friday night, and honestly? It really didn't take much.

Front Porch Dreaming, Spring '09
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