It's a very unChristmas this year. Not because I don't feel celebratory (I do!) or because I don't love Christmas (I really do) but because everything is nonsense-backwards this year.

Today, for example. It's Christmas Eve today. As kids, we would have arrived at my grandparents' on the dot of 4pm, ready for julebukking (contrary to the linked definition, that just meant traveling among relatives house and devouring all available food like a swarm of locusts), present opening, eating of endless cheeses, Christmas punch, sometimes eggnog, always meatballs. Sometimes dinner I guess, but that's less clear. And carols, holding hands, singing around the tree.

Just like in Whoville!

Yet on this Christmas Eve, I am doing none of those things. Instead, I'm watching 5th Element and eating Qdoba nachos.

My kid, my husband, my stepdaughter, and my parents are all hundreds of miles away, and all in different directions. My sister is up the road, but her family celebrates Hanukkah now. When I left her house earlier this afternoon we sort of looked at each other awkwardly and said "Uh, Merry Christmas?" because we don't know what to make of this day, so naked for both of us without its usual holiday glitter. For her, because she has married into new faith. For me, because I have married into a blended family, and our Christmas isn't for another week.

Holidays are one of the roughest parts of blended families, letting go of the traditions you had as a child, plus those you envisioned for your own family as an adult. I've written about this before, our crazy paper Christmas tree that simultaneously symbolizes everything I love and everything that is heartbreaking about living in a blended family.

Only, that post was a lie.

In reality, the kids cheerfully taped paper ornaments to that stupid paper tree while Kermit the Frog sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and then I started crying and had to leave the room. Dan followed to talk me off the ledge, in the incredible way only he can do. And I cried that the paper tree was bullshit, that celebrating Christmas on December 30 is bullshit too, that this is the stupidest holiday ever because it's made up on a random day. And that we will never have a "real" Christmas, just like we will never be a "real" family.

Dan pointed out-- look, the kids are happy. They think it's Christmas, so it's Christmas. Who cares what the date is? And we are a real family, dammit. So what if we have zero examples of families like ours to look to? So what? We're our own thing. We're trailblazers.

And he was right.

I realized in that moment it was only my stubborn perception of how the holiday "should" be that was interfering with feeling celebratory. And, PS, no one gave a crap about the real-ness of the holiday except me. I pulled it together, returned to the idiot paper tree, tried to appreciate that we had created-- for the first time in our lovable disaster of a family, actually-- something new, something from scratch. A tradition that is 100 percent ours.

Then I went on to write my blog post about how the calendar day doesn't matter. And somehow, in the intervening couple years since then, it's even become true.

Look, Christmas-on-the-day is a farce anyway. Most scholars agree that historical Jesus wasn't born anywhere near December 25. Mistletoe and the Yule log come straight from my ancestors, the pagan Norsemen. And the whole gift exchange thing has its roots in the Saturnalia.

Regardless of the various appropriated traditions, Christmas is when we gather to celebrate.

Except that's backwards.

When we gather to celebrate, THAT is our Christmas.

In Alice in Wonderland, every day that isn't your birthday is your unbirthday. A day to celebrate! And our Christmas is an unChristmas, our celebratory day anywhere between December 29th and New Year's. It doesn't matter when the day is; "Christmas" is whenever we get around to celebrating it.

Instead of feeling like we're being cheated out of the holiday, our oddball paper Christmas now feels super fun and sacred somehow. Like those days you wake up really early and you just know the entire world is asleep except you, and in that grey light anything is possible.

Our Christmas is like that-- we're the only ones celebrating; it's a day that's all ours. Anything is possible.

Just like the Whos down in Whoville, we celebrate our Christmas without a (real) tree, without my childhood trappings of untangling light strings with my dad and my red and green plaid taffeta dress.

Instead, our Christmas has a paper tree with glitter-glue ornaments cut from brown Trader Joe's shopping bags. The inaugural song every year is Elvis crooning Blue Christmas; we listen to the whole album, before moving on to the Muppet Christmas album. Then Dan & I leave to buy stocking stuffers from the Michael's dollar aisle while the kids watch holiday movies (Elf, then Scrooged, usually in that order) and they wrap presents.

Crossover traditions from childhood? None.

Yet the feel of Christmas in the air, the family celebration and joy and presents and togetherness and loving one another? We've got that covered.

Even when it falls on December 30th.


After the Stretch

While contorting my body into a weird pose during a so-called "stress-relieving" yoga routine, I thought this is really the opposite of stress relief.

As if the teacher read my mind, she said: "Just to be clear, the release comes after the stretch, not during."

I am reminded of release this December, following an absolutely nuts November.

I won NaNo, something I really thought I couldn't manage this year.

I made it to 50,300 words a whopping 46 minutes before midnight on November 30. I typed so much that my finger joints actually hurt. Not just because of NaNo, but because of the other 70,547 words I wrote for Edited by a Pro in November. And this on top of the other full-time job I have. And also on top of parenting and, you know, laundry and stuff.

Yet, despite my jacked-up fingers and completely fried imagination, I came out the other end feeling-- amazing.


Getting to indulge my imagination for 50,300 words opened something up that spread into other limbs of my life. My boring articles became more creative; my days felt more fulfilled.

Sure, I was exhausted. Beyond that, though, I felt whole.

The word 'yoga' means 'yoke' in Sanskrit -- yoke as in union: the union of body and mind, or your union with a higher power.

Yoke also means burden, a thing keeping us bound, willing or no.

"We are soooo enlightened right now."

Dan is struggling right now, stuck down in Vegas while his daughter is in Reno and Miss G and I are up here. He's stressed and unhappy without his family and says this is one of his lowest points.

"No more character-building, Honey," he says to me over the phone, sounding defeated.

And I tell him, Hang in there. Just a little longer. Release comes after the stretch.

When I'm uncomfortable in a yoga pose, I remind myself to relax. When I stop resisting and remember to breathe, that's when I realize-- yeah, my body can actually do this. And when I disentangle my limbs, I feel amazing.


When life is uncomfortable, every instinct tells me to fight it tooth and nail. Untwist, realign, or flee the scene. Quit NaNo. Cut down to one job. Yet without breathing into the discomfort, without allowing yourself to learn from it, you never get to the next stage in your personal evolution.

Breathe deeply, and let it pass. Stretch deep, and wait for the release.

Source: http://kubuzetto.deviantart.com


Faking Hanukkah

Every other year of Peep's life, she's been traveling somewhere exotic around Hanukkah time and while there may have been presents, it was not a big deal. This year, though, she and her baby sister are kicking it with me over the weekend while her folks move into their new house-- and this weekend happens to be the first couple nights of Hanukkah.

"Hanukkah oh Hanukkah -- uh-- something something some-thing"

When I was a kid, Christmas was a huge deal. Candlelight, singing, gobs of people and presents piled higher than my head. (And horrible, horrible lutefisk... but that's another post.)

My grandmother was super into Christmas; my parents continued her traditions and passed them on to us. I've always loved Christmas-- oh sure, the presents... but the music, the way people are nicer, the twinkly sparlky-ness of it all. And above it all, the sense of magic.

My sister wrote more eloquently than I could about not feeling marginalized at Christmas when you're Jewish. It's heartbreaking for me to imagine, as a kid, seeing all that amazing-ness that the stores haul out for Christmas and knowing that none of it is for you.

Also, as an auntie, I consider it my god-given right to spoil my nieces like crazy at the holidays and lavish them with presents. The name of the holiday we're celebrating is secondary-- tertiary, even-- to the actual celebration and watching kids' faces light up as they open presents.

My sister was all "Oh, if you don't want to deal with it this weekend, it's fine; Hanukkah isn't a big deal" and I was all "WHAT?!" Because, no glitter? No presents? No awesome magical-ness??

As my sister often does, she looked sort of bemused at my high level of emotion. And then gave her blessing to do whatever I want this weekend.

So, Miss G and I are reading up on Hanukkah.

Elements I have going for me:
  • Peep has no real basis of celebration for the holiday yet, so almost anything I do will probably fly.
  • The dollar store had plenty of silver garland
  • I'm not religious enough for any of this to feel blasphemous
What I have going against me?

The punchline is, Hanukkah itself is a pretty minor holiday in the Jewish repertoire. The vibe I get from most online (Jewish) sites toward Hanukkah is one of surly reluctance. And I guess, stretching one night of oil to last eight nights is a pretty lame miracle compared to oh, say, Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates that one time G-d created the entire world.

Plus considering how often the Christians have killed off large numbers of Jews, it's not hard to see why just maybe Christmasizing Hanukkah could make Jewish families a little bit cranky, especially when you have to start hearing about it back in October (something that, for the record, makes me cranky as well).

The highly controversial "Hanukkah Bush"

I mean, why should Hanukkah have to compete with Christmas? And when did Christmas get so competitive anyway? Why can't Hanukkah be its own thing?

So, this year we'll carve out a little spot for Hanukkah at our house.

I don't have a menorah, but I have some lovely silver candelabras that were my great-aunt's; I think she'd appreciate the sentiment. And I've never made latkes, but I'm going to make regular pancakes for dinner and that's always a treat when you're four (or if you're my husband). And Peep has asked to make gingerbread men cookies-- "Except can they be girls?"-- er, okay, gingergirl cookies.

And we can absolutely celebrate miracles. Even little ones.


Thankful. Every Day. Thankful

Last year for Thanksgiving, I talked about giving thanks for the little things.

This year I'm even more thankful for the huge, positive changes that have happened in my life over the last 12 months.

Leaving Las Vegas, clearly.

Having not one, but two jobs I enjoy.

The amazing privilege of helping raise my nieces.

The perfect rental, in the perfect location, for this point in our lives.

And, as always, I'm thankful for a husband who makes me laugh every single day.

And I'm thankful for my incredible kid-- who could have so easily turned out a basket case, given her gypsy-like upbringing, but instead is so grounded and self-assured I kind of want to be her when I grow up.

I'm swimming in gratitude this November, and every day since I moved to Colorado. I love how life delivers unexpected bounty around the next blind corner with unfailing regularity.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Nearly NaNo

About a week ago I realized it was almost November. And while sane people associate that month with things like turkey, some of us think only one thing: NANO

Yep, it's that time of year again.... Write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. If that sounds fun to you, you should sign up. If it sounds nuts, probably avoid it. And those of us participating.

Although it's my third year NaNoing, it's the first year I've really gotten it.

Earlier this year, as some of you may remember, I embarked on a mission to self-pub a bunch of stuff and become officially self-supporting with my writing. Those dozen or so trashy romances I put out are still bringing in about $100/month... which isn't too terrible, considering each copy sold only nets me in the 30-cents-to-a-couple-bucks range.

Between preparing for the move up here, then actually moving, then getting here, adjusting, and nannying, I have not-- as planned-- managed to refocus on the self-pub stuff again. It's never a good time. I'm unpacking, or I'm changing diapers, or driving my kid to school or sleeping.

Then I thought back to my first NaNo. I spent the first week of November that year nursing my husband after his thyroidectomy. Year two, I squeezed in NaNo among the 30,000 odd words of online articles I wrote. And this year? Just moved, single momming it while my husband's still 800 miles away, I'm working full time at one job and part-time at a second. Plus learning how to use a Mac.

Clearly not the best time to be writing.

sheer brilliance from Inkygirl.com.

But that-- THAT-- is exactly what NaNo is all about.

It is NEVER the right time to do what you want to be doing. Never. Real life will not stop long enough for you to pursue your dreams. You have to carve out your own space and guard it ferociously. Push even the heaviest of mandatory curtains aside to make just enough room for your tiny end table and your laptop. Even if you're scribbling on cocktail napkins during happy hour, you're working toward something. You're getting there. You're doing it, doing it 100% more than if you had no scribbled-upon napkins.

NaNo is the time when I realize how much carpe I could diem in a day. Wait, that's Latin so it's probably... how much diem I could carpe. And if I find the time to write 50,000 words in November, I can surely find the time to keep writing the other 11 months.

And that's what NaNo is for. That novel you keep thinking about starting, but can never find the time. Know what? You never will. There's always something that's more practical, more necessary, more grown up.

Our lives, however, are finite. Check your excuses at the keyboard, take November and go for it.

And to all, a happy NaNo.


About Me (reprise)

Since I moved to CO at the end of June, I keep thinking it's vital to update the "About Me" thingy. And then keep forgetting. This week I finally got around to checking on it and was surprised at how little needs changing, even though everything has changed.

The girls. Their ages. That's the only things I had to fix on that page, despite the rest of my life being deliciously unrecognizable from a year or two ago.

This reminds me of a quote from The Little Prince:
On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
If, like me, your high school French is the right level of rusty to only figure out most of those words, this translates to:
"One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye."
If you have not read this book-- well, first, shame on you-- the entire story is a good reminder of invisible essentials.

"I cannot play with you," the fox said, "I am not tamed." 

In my head, my blog profile centered around living in the desert, feeling transplanted. When I read it, I'd mentioned nothing about those things. Or maybe had removed them. Or maybe never included them. Now that I'm living somewhere life makes sense to me again, who knows what was going through my head whenever I wrote that. It's all a blur.

As unsettled as I've felt over the past -- uh, decade-- that's not how I described myself to the outside world. I only mentioned the essentials. The invisibles.

Writing. Painting. My husband. The girls. The things that have tamed me; the things I have tamed.
"Men,"said the fox, "They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?"
"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean---tame?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."
"To establish ties?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world. . .
My life is very monotonous," he said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat. . ." 
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time. "Please---tame me!" he said.

PS- While looking for images for this entry, I stumbled upon this lovely blog post.

...attached to this fantastic graffiti


Don't Break Your Axe

Miss G got me hooked on this show called Once Upon a Time. The broad plot is that all the fairy tale characters were cursed to come live in the Real World, aka a town called Storybrooke, forgetting their lives as fairy tale characters. Throughout the show, we see glimpses of the characters in their parallel lives.

Leroy, the Storybrooke town drunk, is also Grumpy the Dwarf. In the fairy tale world, Grumpy hatches from his egg (as dwarves do) and is handed his axe. When touched for the first time, the dwarves' axe handles tell them their names.

We see the dwarves take their axes, familiar names appearing on handles: Sleepy, Doc, Sneezy... And when Grumpy takes hold, his name flares up solid and true between two thick-knuckled grubby dwarf hands:

[cue me crying]

"The axe never lies, Dreamy," says Bossy Dwarf.

A difficult choice becomes the catalyst of Dreamy's evolution to Grumpy. Angry at a world that has no place for a dwarf with his kind of dreams, Dreamy throws himself into his work with a bitter "Heigh ho," breaking his axe. Bossy hands him a blank replacement axe; the axe itself assigns Dreamy his new name.

"I'm Grumpy now," he says, unsurprised.

I married a wide-eyed optimist; he makes me bonkers. He's completely unrealistic, scattered and impractical about almost everything. 

And I love the snot out of him for it, because god knows I'm realistic, grounded and sensible enough for any dozen Dans. Maybe more. 

About our marriage, Dan's mom said it best:

"Danny's always been this dreamer, and here you are so practical. He lifts you up with his ideas, and then you figure out how to actually get there." 

And it's true. He does. I do. We're a good team. I learned from my parents' marriage that opposites are a sublime force in the world when properly applied.

There's a little Grumpy and a little Dreamy in all of us. The trick is integrating them without breaking your axe.


Year of the Honey Badger

If you spend any amount online, you've probably heard of the honey badger, an animal that just does not give a crap.

If not, feel free to catch up by watching this video. We'll wait for you.

(Oh, and dislaimer... in case the title "Crazy Nastyass HoneyBadger" wasn't by itself a giveaway, there's a goodly amount of profanity in this. Consider yourself warned.)

The awesome not-giving-a-crap-ness of the honey badger has led to an explosion of Internet memes, etsy jewelry, stickers and sweatshirts.

This year's bday present from my mom, by the way.

Beneath the blatant kitsch, however, honesty lurks.

The honey badger recognizes what's important. Honey. Eating snakes. Whatever. And he doesn't let the nonessentials distract him from his goal, no matter how intimidating those nonessentials may be.

This has given rise to a secondary (or possibly tertiary) movement of embracing the honey badger as a role model, or maybe as a life metaphor (and you guys know how much I love those!)

When you look at your life from the perspective of a honey badger, you realize how many things really don't matter. They're often the same things that are holding you back. Much like the Buddhist precept of non-attachment, only by leaving the toxic and nonessential behind can you move forward.

It isn't that the honey badger doesn't give a crap. It's that the honey badger doesn't waste time on the stuff that just doesn't matter. I freaking love that idea.

The proverbial bee stings and snake venom in your own life? Forget 'em. Move on. Be true to your goal.

Nothing fazes the honey badger.


One of the things I carry

Kids point out the magic in the everyday mundane, state the obvious truths our eyes have become too grown-up to see properly.

My elder niece, Peep, keeps talking about "Uncle Dan and Mamie's house in the desert." She loves it there, and is having some trouble wrapping her brain around the idea that I am not in the desert anymore.

The other day, we walked out to my car and she stopped dead in her tracks, pointing at the Arizona license plate, a silhouetted saguaro.

"Mamie! You brought a little bit of the desert with you!"

In Colorado, you don't have to surrender your old plates, so I tucked my saguaro into the pocket behind the passenger seat, carrying a bit of desert with me as I drive around my new mountain life.


The Days of Awe

As a kid, I harvested milkweed from the driveway ditches, searching for monarch caterpillars under every leaf. They were plentiful; it was a quick hunt. Back in my room, I'd make a little mason jar milkweed forest up on my windowsill, refreshing the leaves as the stripey critter chomped his way through the haul.

I'd come home one day to a still jar and an incredible chrysalis the precise color of green mint meltaways, an impossible bright gold thread lining the final suture.

Over the next week or so, the chrysalis faded to translucent, then transparent. The distinctive orange and black monarch pattern took shape within, brighter and brighter.

Without warning, the jar held-- well, not a butterfly. A broken clear shell, and an ugly ungainly thing with monarch-colored stubs angling off its sluggish body.

It hauled itself up the chrysalis stem to the anchoring branch and sat: heaving, wrecked. Sometimes I would edge in a bit of sugar water and watch its long black proboscis unfurl and spiral back, again and again, breaking its fast with desperation.

Once the jar actually housed a recognizable butterfly, I set it free. The next year, I'd do it all again.

So, I have always known that change is hard. It's an uphill battle to escape our tranformative carapace. And once you're out, it's not time to kick up your heels (or wings, as the case may be). You've gotta recuperate. Because, holy crap, is change freaking exhausting.

And I know that. I learned it every year watching the monarchs. Yet I keep forgetting somehow, the way they say women forget the pain of labor.

Today is Yom Kippur. My sister, the shiksa, slid a stack of books on Judaism toward me when I arrived at her house this morning. Once your kid (or your niece) starts asking questions about her religion, you have to be prepared to answer them. And I know nothing about Judaism, although I'm learning in bits.

The first paragraph of the first book:
"Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the holiest days of the Jewish year. They are also the most difficult to understand because, unlike other holidays, they don't celebrate a season or an important historical event. Instead they celebrate something intensely personal and extraordinary: the human being's ability to grow and change." -- The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays by Malka Drucker 
Predictably, I was in tears.

"Me too," says my sister over my sniffles.

She tells me the days between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur are called The Days of Awe.

"What a great name," I say.

"Yeah, I'm trying to use it as much as possible in everyday conversation."

The Days of Awe are the time to reflect on the past year of your life. Think about mistakes you've made. Forgive yourself. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is for apologizing-- to those you've wronged, to G-d, maybe even to yourself.

You're unfolding a brand new year, after all. You deserve a clean slate. And you'll need to ditch the extra baggage before moving on to making all those changes you have planned, because change is a lot of work. You'll need every bit of energy you can spare.

Apologize. Atone. Awake. At first, you'll be weakened. Starving after your long fast within. Yet, you'll be in a new body, ready for a new lifecycle. After you catch your breath, you'll be ready. Leave the shattered remnants of chrysalis behind and dry your wings.

Take flight.



I had this dream a few nights ago that I was riding a bike, the kind with baskets on either side of the back wheel. In the baskets were some books and other things, and I was biking my way to a new life.

I was traveling light; all my stuff was in storage somewhere. Yet, as I cut across the BSU campus (clearly the most direct route from Nevada to Colorado), there were all my worldly belongings laid out across folding tables. Right in front of Tamarack Hall.

The guys running my end-of-an-era clearance sale were very friendly, although they had no idea who I was. As I browsed through my own belongings I asked a few questions about prices, which they answered with a smile in between assisting other customers. There were a few things I was tempted to purchase and bring along; I had plenty of room in the bike baskets still.

Then, I set down everything I was holding, got back on my bike and left. The bike wheels whizzed across the grass; the wind smelled like fresh green; my cheeks hurt from smiling so wide.

I woke up still smiling.


In Between

I am not a fan of in-between. I like to be either here or there. I am currently neither here nor there, however; I'm en route from here to there.

I'm spending a couple here-nor-there days in Taos, which has the perfect mystical quality to absorb in-between angst. I like to describe it as "all the magic of my hometown, minus the baggage and obligation."

Casita Montoya, home for 2 nights. 

The fantasticness of Taos is making my pictures blurry.

This morning I went for a walk to see if the "within walking distance to the Plaza!" claim made for my casita was an exaggeration. 

It wasn't. 

It's like they knew I was coming...

God, I love it here. I hate repeating myself, but it is so magical. I'm excited for a new life in Colorado, but even more excited for the tides to turn again and lead us here to stay. Someday. Once I move fully from here to there.


The Last Time Game

When something big is about to happen-- like, say, a move-- I start playing the Last Time Game. You know the one.

This is the last time I'll ever scrub this toilet or vacuum this floor. This is the last time eating at our favorite little Greek place. This is the last time I'll be able to buy Trader Joe's brand... well, anything, I guess. (Till those guys get it together in Colorado, anyway.) This is the last time I'll write a blog post from this house. 

Along with the Last Time Game, you can play the No More Game.

No more 114 degree weather. No more sleeping in the hottest room of the house. No more Bermuda grass. No more constant exposure to the armpit of humanity and its horrible driving. No more miles upon miles of nothing but stark brown landscape.

The goat is cute, but can't make this view less brown. 

And then there's the "At Least for a While" game.

No more waking up to someone who makes me laugh even before I leave the bed. At least, for a while.
No more family pancake mornings. At least, for a while.
No more Battlestar Galactica marathons with Miss G. At least, for a while.

That last game, I can't play very long because I'm a crier.

The best game, though, is the uncovering of new things in a new place. New Greek restaurants. Family pancake breakfasts in a new dining room. New scenery: greens and mountains and trees. New weather: thunderheads and blizzards and everything in between. Better people. A better future.

Next stop: Colorado.

I don't know how to photoshop anything so this image is totally legit. 


Finally Finished

Although I have an absurd amount of intriguing things going on in my life, I'm not talking about any of them today. Today's topic instead: I FINISHED PAINTING THE BATHROOM.

Okay, this may not sound like a big thing, and definitely not an ALL CAPS kind of thing. But seriously. If you knew how long this project has haunted me, you'd put it in all caps too.

I promised Miss G an underwater bathroom around um, age 7 I think. She's turning 14 this year. (PS, see how I typed that without throwing up? Awesome!) Granted, most of those years were spent as apartment dwellers where I didn't want to paint, then repaint any bathrooms. However, we've been in this house for four (4) years now. You'd think that'd be ample time to paint a bathroom.

Turns out it was just barely enough.

Oh, and I could not have finished this without my amazing artist friend Carolyn. You know those projects that sit so long they grow impenetrable skins across them? The bathroom was one of them. Carolyn helped me finally breach it by showing up with reference books, know-how, her paints and brushes, and her always-cheerful attitude.

So, on to the pics.

We call this "Seahorse Corner."

Carolyn's awesome clown fish. 

My very first octopus!

An octopus close-up, because I love him so much. 

The "cave."

A close-up of Carolyn's happiest-moray-eel-in-the-world 

Some jellyfish... possibly the most fun thing to paint EVER. 

So, there you go, Miss G. You are probably way beyond the age where an underwater bathroom is remotely interesting, but at least I finally finished the damned thing. Love you! xoxo


Everything always works out.

In three weeks, I leave for Colorado.

I don't have a job. I don't have a place to live. My husband doesn't have permission from his ex-wife to leave the state and move with me, unless he agrees to give up even more time with his daughter.

Oh. And as of last week, I don't have a car to leave in, because my engine blew up out of nowhere.

That's okay though.

Because remember that fluke job I applied for last year? Those third-world country wages are turning into an actual, full-time job this month. A full-time job paying enough to support us, with paid holidays and time off that I can take with me wherever I want to live. Including Colorado.

And the housing? I have an amazing sister who can't wait for me to overstay my welcome with her. And she's got this awesome basement guest room that's one of those magical places, like you breathe more deeply there or something. So that's perfect for now, and something else will work out when I get up there.

The car? Married a guy who is able to say "No problem, honey. We'll just put in a new engine." So that's set. Thanks, Husband. And thanks, tax returns.

The custody crap? Irritating, but hardly the worst blow we've had come from that direction. Dan can't leave until he finishes remodeling his parents' house anyway, so we'll hope that some people become more reasonable before he pounds the last nail. Dan says that'll be before Thanksgiving; I say next summer. Will I miss him? Yep. But that'll work itself out somehow too.

Everything is uncertain, and yet it hardly matters. Everything always works out. Always. Never once have I leapt and not landed somewhere solid, so I've decided to stop worrying. Even the stupid crap ends up being for the best somehow, no matter how much you'd like to slap the idiots who say that to you in your darkest moments.

Damned optimists. They're right every damned time.

It makes me smile.


Well, it's complicated.

That is the one phrase I use more than any other to answer nearly every question thrown my way. And it makes me nuts. If there is one thing I hate, it's "complicated"-- and there is no way to stepparent without  gobs of complication.

Even basic questions have complex answers requiring endless exposition and backstory to explain custody schedules, latest compromises, and current negotiating climate.

I ambushed my poor sister the other day, who innocently asked if I thought the kids might be interested in taking an art workshop over our brief vacation in CO this summer.

"Well, it's complicated," I say.

"See, I'm not sure how long we'll be there. I know when we're arriving, but I'm not sure when the girls fly out with Dan because Miss L's mom says her husband's family is having a reunion in Oklahoma right at those dates. But we only have two weeks where all four of us overlap this summer, because I start work July 1 but Miss G is at the lake with her dad's folks till June 22 and then she's with her dad August 3rd till school starts and Miss L gets 10 days with her mom sometime in there so we're working things out with this new parent coordinator but we haven't gotten hard dates for sure yet so I'll have to--"

My sister starts laughing and I interrupt myself saying "I know, it's ridiculous, I'm so sorry. Even an easy question is like a 20 minute response."

She says, "No, no, it's fine! Actually I was just thinking... I am just in awe. I don't know how you do it."

I think about it a minute. There's only one answer.

"Well. It's complicated."


Ode to my Husband

Every morning, before I'm quite awake, as I become conscious of the furry, sleeping person next to me, my first coherent thought is "Thank god for Dan."

I have never met anyone more compassionate and patient than Dan. He would have to be, to put up with me & Gwyn of course, but he is just... beyond.

Dan taking Peep on an exclusive uncle-niece hotsprings hike.

I knew he was a gentle soul from the moment our eyes met, but didn't realize the depth of his capacity until we'd been dating nearly a year. We were grocery shopping with the girls, and Miss L was standing on the handle-end of the cart, jumping up and down between his arms as he pushed. He told her multiple times to stop jumping and she ignored him. As we left, she launched herself with a particular enthusiasm which sent her head directly into his chin, so hard I could hear the snap of teeth from across the parking lot. It made my jaw hurt for him.

We all went silent, braced for an explosion, Miss L totally still with big eyes like a hunted rodent. She is all too familiar with her mother's frequent outbursts, and expected no less from her father. I remember thinking "Finally, I get to see Dan lose his temper." I am not proud of this. It seemed abnormal for someone to be on such an even keel all the time.

But after a noise of strangled pain, Dan just said-- in a slightly choked voice-- "I really wish you'd listen to me and be more careful kiddo." And we continued to the car.

Me, I would have flipped out. There would have been yelling and cursing. I think most parents would have done the same.

But not Dan.

The weekend Miss L refused to get on the plane, he called every phone line he could think of to reach her, to talk with her about what was going on: mom's cell, her cell, landline. Every attempt went straight to voicemail. Finally he just left a message.

My voicemail would have been flipped out, yelling and cursing straight up till the beep cut me off. I suspect most parents would have reacted similarly.

But not Dan.

Instead, he said: "Hey kiddo, it's your dad. I'm sad about what's happening, but I just want you to know I love you no matter what."

And he didn't (as I and the other more petty members of the human race might have) leave this message as a guilt trip. Nope. He really meant it.

Dan didn't lose his temper till a couple days later, when Miss L finally returned his call with a sulky attitude, angry at him and calling him selfish. That was when I developed sudden empathy for the insane  emotional turmoil which drove Alec Baldwin to leave that nasty voicemail for his daughter a few years back. That was when I finally learned the answer to the question I've wondered for seven years now: What will it take to make Dan snap?

I don't blame him. I don't think anyone could. Most of us would have lost it much sooner.

But not Dan.

Dan's first meeting with the new Parental Coordinator is today. Miss L's mom says Miss L cannot continue seeing us twice a month after we move to Colorado, though it sounds like this would have been brought up even without our move. Miss L is (we're told) too exhausted from traveling so much. Her grades are suffering. She doesn't see her friends enough. And this is not only her mom's idea; Miss L is agreeing with every word.

Dan says, okay. I'm not thrilled about this, but I can handle once a month if it's better for her. We can redistribute the lost days elsewhere. Her mother has over three weeks in the summer and half of Spring Break. We can rearrange.

There is silence from Miss L's mom. She does not want to give up more days. She just wants Dan to discard his parenting time and be happy about it.

As per the court orders, we now invoke the help of a third party: the PC. The magical gal who's supposed to wave her wand and resolve all the differences between parents.

Dan and I have discussed strategy, pros and cons, potential compromises, outlined defenses for the most likely attacks for over a week now. He feels prepared. He has lists.

Last night he comes home and I ask how he's doing. He's silent for a minute, then says: "You know, I don't even care. All I want is to be a dad to my kid without fighting tooth and nail to do it. I don't care if I only see her once a month. I don't even care if she barely talks to me in between visits. I really don't. I just want them to let me be a dad."

Me? I'd be flipping out. Yelling and cursing. I think most parents would.

But not Dan.


The myth of positive stepparenting blogs

The question asked recently in one of the stepparenting forums I pop into now and again was "Are there *any* positive stepparenting blogs out there? Most of them are either depressing or bitter."

Totally true. I'm guilty of veering into depressing and/or bitter myself. But positive stepparenting blogging... it's just-- well, not impossible because nothing's impossible... but (like absolutely every other damned thing about blended families) it is delicate and tricky.

To have a good blog, you need interesting content. Without any drama, your stepparenting blog sounds pretty lame, almost like a regular family. Almost, in fact, like real life. Who wants to read about that? You get that at home.

Normal happy family? Booo-ring!

So, you need a little drama to keep things spicy. Except, under a constant onslaught of drama, very few people are able to remain positive, let alone keep a sense of humor about it.

For example, this weekend my stepdaughter refused to get on the plane to see us. And her mother refused to make her. If anyone can tell me how to make this into a funny story, I'm all ears. Right now, it's depressing. And if I dwell on it, bitter will enter next.

We had nothing but totally normal family things planned. Miss L's favorite dinner Friday night: chicken enchiladas and homemade refried beans. After, we were hitting Titanic 3D. Saturday we were going to refinish some dressers that were her great-grandmother's, a project started ages ago. And in the evening, we were going down to Pig Rock to do some bouldering, grill a fat steak, and watch a movie under the stars via portable DVD player. Sunday: sleep in, make pancakes and bacon, chill around the house till airport time.

Could I make an interesting blog entry out of that? Maybe. Dan has some good one-liners, and pics of climbing are always good.

Exhibit A: Arbitrary Climbing Picture

Except, here's problem two: if blog entries aren't about your struggles as a stepparent, why are other stepparents reading your blog? They're looking for support, commiseration, reassurance that they're not alone, stories of how other blended families handle conflicts, either to sympathize with them or find guidance for their own battles and inspiration for their heartbreak. If the weekend I write about is just like any weekend with a regular family, it benefits nary another stepparent out there.

Maybe I could make it funny if I include the part about how I was joking to the kids that I'd rather have us all live in a tent than spend one more summer in Las Vegas, and how the lawyer actually mentions that in her official letter; that a tent is not acceptable living conditions, that this is a reason Miss L should be here less, as if I had been serious.

I mean, come on. That's pretty funny.

OMG, tents!!! Call CPS!

It's also kind of funny how the lawyer's letter said with Miss L getting more interested in her hair and makeup, it's not important for her to see her dad as much anymore. Yep. Really said that.

It's also really funny how it's the four days a month she's with us that is causing her to flunk English class and has her constantly exhausted, not the other 26 days of the month. And also pretty hilarious that she doesn't get enough time with her friends during that 26 days, but instead needs to only visit one weekend per month from now on because friends are super important, and 26 days isn't enough time to spend with them, and four days is too many to spend with us.


Actually not funny. I'm afraid I stepped into bitter a little. Dammit, I was doing okay for a minute there. They're just super close together sometimes.

Okay, so positive stepparenting blogs? Yeah, they don't exist. Because like every single other life experience, stepparenting in a blended family isn't always positive. There are ups and downs and you can't make everything funny. There are really hard times, and really good times. And sure, there are totally hilarious times, but sometimes the absurdity gets lost in the unfairness. The anger. The wondering why the most basic thing in the world-- having a family-- is so easy for everyone in the world except for your family.

It's not always like that, though. You just have to hang in for the crappy stuff till the good stuff comes back around. Just like a regular family. Just like real life.

Above all, keep your sense of humor. And for the love of god, don't joke about tents.


Spring Break at Lowercase E

For Spring Break this year we stuck close-ish to home, just drove a couple hours away to Lowercase E Campground. Also known as Backwards-Number-9 Campground (that's what the kids have dubbed it).

"Climbers call it Mecca, because it has such amazing climbing," Dan tells me, when I ask what the real name of E Campground is.

"But what's the real name?" I ask, exasperated.

"Well, the white men call it the Pahroc. The northern part."

Good enough.

It's clearly a lowercase e.

We like E Campground lots; it's a short drive, for one thing, and there's never anyone else there. Unless we invite them. Although we did see evidence of former residents during our stay.... some unwrapped candy hidden in curious places...

...an old Easter egg so disgusting even the dogs wouldn't eat it....

But we had the area to ourselves, even though we arrived late Easter Eve. 

Although the dogs did not eat any broken Easter eggs, they did unearth a bunny burrow right in the middle of our campsite. 

Cutest. Thing. Ever. (The bunny's pretty cute too I guess)

Much as the girls wanted to adopt the trio of baby bunnies (promptly named Shakes, Lucky, and Scrappers), we left them there with their mama. Sadly, that meant the dogs had to be tied up for the remainder of our stay to keep them away from the delicious, intriguing little things. We probably should have tied the kids up too, for the exact same reason. 

The kids made a burrow of their own. For reference, here they are when viewed from the ground:

... and here's the Kid Nest they made up there:

Dan even delivered chili to them. Because he is awesome like that.

Before we leave, the girls love to complain about camping; once we're there, they love the actual camping. Probably due to the all the shameless incentive/bribery junk food we slather on.  

It's the only time we let them eat yummy MSG-laden ramen. 

We spent a delightful four days with no cell reception getting progressively smellier and climbing rocks. Not necessarily in that order.

A good time was had by all, with just a little tinge of sadness at not knowing if we'll make it back to E Campground again anytime soon.

It's a pretty long drive from Colorado.



Our wedding was three years ago today. I jokingly said to my mother "It's hard to say if things have gotten better in those three years, or way worse."

Except, like many jokes, it's not really a joke.

When I first got our amazing wedding photos I had trouble looking through them.

Instead of seeing pictures, I saw memories. I remembered crying for hours the night before the wedding, sure Dan was making a colossal mistake in marrying someone his daughter hated so much. I remembered his ex-wife calling and yelling at him for an hour the first day of our honeymoon and wondered why the hell I had willingly signed on for this much animosity... for the rest of my life. The wedding itself, a ceremony promising union, felt like the biggest possible farce.

Hard to believe you could not find perfection against this backdrop.

Fast forward three years. Life is still uncertain, although I cry much less these days. Miss L no longer radiates hatred from her being if I walk into the room. And although Dan's ex-wife remains an obstacle to the future we want more often than not, we are learning how not to give in to terrorist demands.

We married in the eye of a hurricane but the storm is finally passing. Clouds are breaking; blue skies appearing.

Maybe the wedding felt false because I thought it should be the beginning of happily ever after and ours felt like the furthest thing from.

A wedding is a beginning, period.

On our wedding day, Dan and I joined hands and committed to a life together, and that's exactly what we're doing. It's not the perfect life. It never is, not for anyone. We're just living life, and living it together.

Over rough roads and smooth.

Doesn't get much more authentic or more celebratory than that.