Gratitude 12: Watching Your Child’s Dream Come True

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Today Sam won his school’s Geography Bee.  For real!

Photo evidence:

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Some of you will remember when Sam was in second grade, how he so desperately wanted to enter a geography bee that he decided to invent one.  If you care to hear the tale of our little boy and his enormous lie, you can read it here.  But in a nutshell:  he created geography bee contestants, daily questions, and even moderators.  He fooled family members, friends, and possibly even himself.  It’s a wonder we all survived that experience without therapy.

Last year Sam was finally old enough to participate in the National Geographic Bee, but his school did not participate.  He was crushed.  I knew we needed some closure to this saga, so this year I volunteered to sponsor an after school geography bee club.  I’m no cartographer, but we had fun playing games, making flashcards, and studying maps.  The school’s kindergarten teacher volunteered to be the school’s official sponsor, so she downloaded the questions and coordinated the actual bee.

Only seven kids signed up for the club, but they were all pretty darn brilliant and incredibly well traveled.  At the first meeting I brought poster-sized copies of U.S. and world maps, and the kids marked all the places they had visited or lived.  Later that night Sam asked why we had never been to Europe, as if it’s a perfectly normal travel destination for 5th grade Alaskan children.

We only had eight study sessions before the school bee, and the kids were especially squirrely as we neared winter break.  I sent them home with several study aides – online tools, book recommendations, and board games – to prepare for the school bee.

Before we knew it, the big day arrived.  Sam did so well in the early rounds I worried someone would think I had access to the questions – either as his club sponsor or at the school where I work.  For the record:  I would never compromise a contest like that.  Not only would it be completely unethical and unfair to the other children, but it would be the ultimate vote of no confidence for my own child.  The only thing worse than winning an imaginary bee would be cheating in a real one.

Sam hates when we bring up his fictitious geography bee.  “It was three years ago!” he declares.  I want to roll my eyes, but then I remember that three years is nearly a third of his life.  It seems like yesterday to me.  He has grown and changed so much in these few short years, and we could not be prouder of our little map loving man.

It was a tough competition, and all of the kids – Sam included – really struggled in the final rounds.  He was truly humble when he accepted his championship medal and certificate.  But amidst the buzz and flurry of emotions in the room, he and I  shared a quick glance.  We were the only ones there who knew the whole story:  how his second grade fantasy had just become a fifth grade reality.

It’s a pretty special thing to watch your child’s dream come true.  Today it was just a little geography bee, but tomorrow…. well, that’s up to him to decide.  I know his dreams will get bigger and farther away as he gets older, so today was special for me too.  How often will I be right there… close enough to snap photos, call the grandmas, and squeeze him up in a most embarrassing hug?

Congratulations, Sam!


Gratitude 11: Civil Discourse

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“And always remember, while your right to express yourself may protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, being heard is a privilege that must be earned.” ~Steve Johnson, UAA Debate Team

A few months ago I attended a debate about marijuana legalization in Alaska.  It was moderated by Steve Johnson, the coach of the University of Alaska-Anchorage’s award winning debate team.  Both sides had the opportunity to share their views, ask questions of each other, and answer questions from the audience.  It was an intelligent, informational, and – above all – refreshingly civil event.  Don’t get me wrong:  there was no kumbaya moment and the two sides clearly and vehemently disagreed with one another.  But they left the name calling at home, and were able to disagree with respect and class.

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I love a good debate, but I absolutely detest the toxic climate of today’s media and politics.  Anchorage has some horribly polarizing radio talk shows, and a quick scan of the comments in the Anchorage Dispatch News makes me wonder if there is a minimum IQ requirement to participate.  Sadly, I know we are not alone.  What has gone so wrong?  How did we get to the point where hate speech is considered journalism?  How did the lines between entertainment and information get so blurred?

I worry what our polarizing media is doing to this country.  Even in the age of electronic balloting, many elections are simply too close to call on election night.  No matter who ends up winning, you essentially have half of the voting public greatly disappointed.  They are at best disenfranchised and at worst poisoned with anger.  Not ideal.

Rarely are issues black and white, so I appreciate when media coverage considers the gray.  Many people proudly identify themselves as either Republican or Democrat, but they shouldn’t feel like traitors if they see valid opinions from the other side of the aisle.

My dream isn’t so much that we all agree on everything.  Clearly that will never happen.  Instead, I hope we can leave the caustic comments at home and turn off the talk show hosts who profit by spreading hatred and fear.  I hope we can learn to disagree with civility:  in our politics, our friendships, our families, and our marriages.

When I left the debate, I still wasn’t sure how to vote about marijuana legalization in Alaska.  But I was armed with more statistics, perspectives, and research that helped me make an informed decision.  And perhaps more importantly, I left with a renewed sense of faith in the public process and the possibility of more civil discourse in the future.

As Steve Johnson closed the event, he reminded the audience of some important advice:  “Debates are not the end of a discussion, but merely the beginning.”


Gratitude #10: Time

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Today, finally, I am grateful for time.  It’s the first day of winter break, and for the next two weeks life gets to slow down.  Even amidst the craziness of the holidays, there is more time for the things that matter.  Time to cook real breakfasts and eat better dinners.  Time to take walks before the sun sets.  Time to read, and time to write.  And time to catch up, on fun stuff like photo albums and not-so-fun stuff like housework.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even get Christmas (or I’d better make that New Year’s) cards out this year.

A big chai tea cheers to this beautiful first morning.  College football is on the tv and the kids are belting out Christmas tunes on the piano.  There is a fresh coat of snow to explore after breakfast, and I’m spending the afternoon sewing Christmas pajamas with friends.  Not a bad start to this wonderful staycation!

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Gratitude #9: Today

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Today felt like a gift.  Each moment was wrapped in a shiny bow, and I untied every second.

Due to a late parent-teacher conference night earlier in the week, I only had to work until 11:00.  The kids didn’t have school at all, so Clark took a vacation day.

As soon as the work day was done (okay, maybe 10 minutes early) I raced to Sam and Maggie’s Halloween-themed piano recital.  The concert had started, but thankfully I didn’t miss my two stars.  They are all about Harry Potter these days, so of course they dressed in Hogwarts uniforms (sans capes) and played their little hearts out.

I was so proud it nearly ripped my heart out.

Maggie played Here They Come (boo on me for missing the first few chords… I forgot to power up the camera before hitting record):

Sam played two songs.  First was Spooky Hollow:

Next he played Halloween.  Something about this song really spoke to him.  He loves playing it!

In case you’re wondering, Harry Potter’s blue tennis shoes are entirely my fault.  I was counting on him wearing black snow boots with his costume.  Oops.

The kids were riding high on a balloon of relief after the concert, so we sailed over to Benihana for a celebratory lunch.  Benihana is a family favorite – the kids never tire of the onion volcano or watching the chefs juggle eggs and flip shrimp tails into their hats.  Plus, we all love the food.

After lunch we had reserved seats at a movie theater to watch Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Yes, you read that right.  Reserved seats at a movie theater.  In king sized recliners!  Anyone who hasn’t checked out the remodeled theaters at the Dimond Center really should.  We were extremely comfortable and thoroughly entertained.  Sam laughed so hard I thought he might pee in his ginormous chair, and by the time the movie was done I had cried off every speck of my mascara.  From laughing.

After the movie we shifted into divide and conquer mode.  Clark and Sam went to the local high school championship football game, while Maggie and I headed to pick out this year’s pumpkins.

I love shopping with Maggie because she still holds my hand.  Sam has given me the shake-off so many times that I don’t even try any more.  The local pumpkins were pretty beat up this year, but we found a few that should work.photo 3

Tomorrow the kids have a Halloween carnival, and will wear their Harry Potter and Hermione costumes for the first time.  To create Hermione’s crimped look, Maggie is sleeping in these wet braids.  I can’t wait to see if it works!

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Maggie asked if we could read Diamond Willow before bedtime.  She was amazed when I showed her my autographed copy of this beautiful book!

When the boys got home, Sam insisted he wasn’t tired.  You can see how well that worked out for him:

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So now I shall carry my child to bed, for what I realize is one of the last times.  It’s a bittersweet bow to untie, but the kid is getting heavy!

It feels like I’ve had the best weekend in ages, but guess what?  It’s only Friday!


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More Gratitude: Dry Pavement, First Snow

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Today I offer up two strange and seemingly contradictory items of gratitude.  Bear with me.

Gratitude #7:  Dry Pavement.  Oh how I miss thee!  This morning I woke at 4:30 AM to nearly a foot of unexpected snow.  I say unexpected because yesterday the kids were roaming the neighborhood without coats, and Clark drove his ’67 Camaro (note:  not a winter vehicle) to the grocery store.

I also say unexpected because it was completely unpredicted.  Apparently Anchorage mothers and meteorologists were equally shocked.

In this house (and I suspect many others) the snow caused a mad dash to round up the kids’ hats-boots-gloves-snowpants-coats before I left for work.  I lovingly tucked gloves and hats in their backpacks, laid out their snow bibs and coats, and rummaged through the garage for last winter’s snow boots.  Their toes might be cramped, but at least they would be warm.

With that task complete I hopped in the car and headed to work.  I wasn’t even out of the driveway before I realized I should have given a shout out to dry pavement weeks ago.

The snow is here, which means the roads will be a wet mess for the next several months.  Sometimes an icy mess, sometimes a snowy mess, and often a scary mess.  You can find me inching down our curvy road in second gear, or in the slow lane of the highway cursing every driver who needs to merge in next to me.  Because this means I need to slide over, and oftentimes I can’t get back.  The last thing I want is to be the slow lady in the fast lane, getting flipped off by every lunatic in a jacked up 4×4 who races around me as if it’s a sunny day in July.

I love Alaska, but from November-ish to March-ish I detest driving here.  I hate the mechanical rrrrrrt-rrrrrt-rrrrrt sound my anti-lock breaks make when I try to stop.  I hate feeling like my rear end is going to flip my front end into a tailspin.  And most of all I despise when people cruise past me at speeds that are far too fast for conditions.

I’m a normal driver on dry pavement, but when the roads are slick I’m passive to the point of problematic.  I’m working on it.

So on this date of our city’s first snowfall, I acknowledge my deep appreciation for dry pavement and how much I will miss it in the coming months.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

The kids can’t get enough.  The dog is going wild.  Because guess what?  It’s the first snowfall of the season.  For Tess Dog, who is almost 7 months, it’s the first snowfall of her life! 

When we arrived home from school, the kids flew out of the car.  They had lunch boxes to unpack and homework to complete, but I didn’t care.  The doorbell was dinging and every kid in the neighborhood was out squealing on a sled.  What mother could say no to the lure of fresh powder and fresh air?

Which brings me to Gratitude #8:  First Snow.

Fresh snow is always amazing, but the season’s first snow is pure magic.  Children skip from their beds and press their warm little noses to frosty windows, peering out at the clean slate of sparkling powder below.  Their skin is immune to the cold, probably because the joy that radiates from their hearts provides all the heat they need.  My kids spend hours soaring down sledding hills, slinging snowballs, and assembling snowmen before asking for a hot cocoa break.  They track critters and make paths of their own.  It’s pure maniacal joy!

Speaking of maniacs… the dog was a bundle of hilarious.  She was leaping and bounding, chasing sleds and chomping snowballs.  She was absolutely ecstatic.

I admit, I will miss driving on dry pavement.  But as long as we’re home in time to throw snowballs at sunset, I think life in the slow lane is worth it.

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Gratitude #6: The Hubs

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Today I’m feeling particularly grateful for my husband, who is currently at the grocery store rounding up everything we need for dinner tonight.  We tag team meals a lot – both the cooking and the shopping.

It’s been a weekend full of gratitude with him.  The kids didn’t have school Friday, so he stayed home with them and offered to watch a friend’s daughter as well.  That night I hosted book club, so he ran away as soon as all the ladies started to arrive.  When he came home several hours later there was an epic mess in the kitchen.  He quietly took care of the dishes and leftovers while we all kept chatting away in the living room.

This morning I woke to the smell of a delicious breakfast skillet filled with eggs, onions, bell peppers, hash browns and spicy sausage.  We ate together, and then he promptly whipped up a batch of waffles from scratch for the kids.

This afternoon Maggie was having a meltdown at the piano, and my patience was tapped.  He calmly ushered her upstairs for a chat.  I have no idea what he said to her up there, but she’s been a normal human ever since.

I think it’s so important that we model this teamwork for our children.  Mommies don’t do all the cooking and cleaning, and Daddies don’t do all the yardwork.  We both work full time outside of the house, so it takes both of us to keep life sane inside the house as well.

I’ve gotta admit, he’s one of the good guys.

And that makes me one of the lucky gals.

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Gratitude #5: The Wardrobe of the Sky

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It’s been a crisp but colorful October, and the sunsets have been a real treat.

The sky wrapped herself in a variety of hues this month, each of them equally stunning.

Most evenings she picked the quintessential pink, one of the most common colors in her closet:

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Other days she pulled out the gray.  Not an angry gray, but a pensive, reflective calm one:

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And one special night she surprised us with this vibrant orange:

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I’m always grateful when the clouds decide to part and share the sky, in all her moods, with those of us who inhabit this vast space beneath.


Gratitude #4: Weekends

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There aren’t enough days in the weekend.
~Rod Schmidt

Oh how I love the weekend!

The kids and I ventured out of town the past few weekends:  two weeks ago we went to Hatcher Pass, and last weekend to Girdwood:

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This weekend we stayed home.  And when I say “stayed home,” I mean it quite literally.  Today I didn’t even change out of my fuzzy fleece pajama pants.

Did I mention I love weekends?

I have never been a morning person, so weekends give me the blessed gift of crawling out of bed whenever I darn well please.  Clark wakes up early no matter what day it is, so by 7 or so I pretty much have the bed to myself.  I usually steal his pillow and doze for a while, and then lounge in bed for another hour reading.  It’s the most relaxing, wonderful start to a day.

This morning I was reading the most amazing book – I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.  It’s a wonder I got out of bed at all, and quite frankly I can’t wait to publish this post and get back to it!

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Eventually the smell from the kitchen pulled me downstairs.  Clark makes the kids a homemade breakfast every Saturday and Sunday.  It’s one of his things.  Monday through Friday mornings are rushed and we resort to boxed cereal or packaged oatmeal, so he insists we do better on the weekends.  The kids love his homemade waffles (from scratch), World Famous Cinnamon rolls, pancakes, and blueberry muffins.

Who knows what we will do after breakfast, but at least it’s on our terms.  Watching football, running errands, hitting a trail, dinner with friends… it’s never the same.

And there’s actually time for fun stuff.  Today Maggie and I Halloweened the House:

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And there’s time for cooking.  On the weekends, dinner isn’t a daily chore but instead an opportunity to try new recipes.  It’s a chance to wow the kids with simple things they never knew existed, like a bowl made out of bread.  How did they not know about these?

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The weekend is also a time to catch up. On sleep, chores, housework, and paperwork.  Writing and reading.  Sorting mail and paying bills.  And laundry.

Lots of laundry.

After the past two weekends away, we had a mountain of laundry.  But now it’s all washed, dried, and safely tucked away.  The floors are vacuumed, the toilets scrubbed, and the countertops shiny.

Tomorrow, when I come home from work, I’ll walk into a home where I can relax, rather than see another set of jobs and duties.

My past two weekends away filled my tank, but this weekend at home recharged my batteries.

So now… back to that great book!


Gratitude Challenge: Intermission

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I’m late posting my fourth gratitude.

The shame!!  The guilt!

First it was because the History Channel aired a two hour documentary about marijuana legalization, which is a topic on Alaska’s ballot next month.  Clark and I carved out some time to watch it and have a grown up conversation (imagine that).  It didn’t leave much time for publishable blogging.

The next night was due to college football.  #2 Oregon was upset.  I mean honestly, who can blog through such a celebratory event?!

Last night I went to the movie Gone Girl with my book club buddies.

I love the concept of this 15 day Gratitude Challenge, but I should have stuck to the abbreviated Facebook version!  I am a shockingly slow writer.  It takes me all of two seconds to think of a topic for my gratitude, but then another 3-4 hours to write about it.  Honoring my topic takes time, from wordsmithing and photo selections to revisions and reflections.

Some people can knock out a blog post in no time, but that is just not my reality.  My reality is I don’t start writing until 9 PM after the kids are in bed, and I need to catch a few zzzz’s myself before my alarm blares at 5:50 AM.

Will I finish my self-imposed 15 Day Gratitude Challenge?  Absolutely.  Will I do it in 15 days?  Absolutely not.

Finding balance has always been one of my biggest challenges, but I know it’s a vital part of happiness.  To find that balance between the things we want to do and the things we have to do.  To make time for family, friends, work, and yourself too, especially when it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time in the day.

The gratitude challenge is easy, but finding that balance… now that is a real challenge!

Now I’m off to clean the house (I’m grateful to have one) because we have friends (we’re lucky to have them) coming to watch the football game this afternoon.  Hopefully at the end of the day we will be grateful for another Husker win!


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Gratitude Day 3: The Gift of Hatcher Pass

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“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”  ~John Muir, Alaska Days With John Muir, 1915

A few weeks ago I asked my dear friend Nancy, “If we could do anything to celebrate your birthday, what would it be?”

It took her a few days to answer honestly, but she finally asked for what she wanted:  an overnight getaway in the adorable little cabins at Hatcher Pass.  I passed the word to my friend Janelle, who had a cozy cabin booked within hours.

It turned out to be perfect timing, since all of our husbands were either moose hunting, jetsetting to Seattle for a football game, or working on house projects.  So we women packed up our kids and cars and headed for the woods.

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The Hatcher Pass cabins are rustic in all the right ways.  There isn’t running water, but they are heated, dog-friendly, and surrounded with bucketloads of blueberry bushes:

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The first night we explored the trails around Independence Mine:

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That evening we ate dinner at the Lodge.  I’m not a fondue fan, but apparently it was incredible.  The kids played board games at the table next to us, which gave the moms time to chat the night away.  We walked back to the cabin and celebrated with homemade peanut butter pie, and Nancy took the kids for their first sauna experience.  I made up crazy stories to help the kids fall asleep, but unfortunately they put the moms out first!

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The next day we hiked the April Bowl trail.  If you’ve never done it, you should.  Look at this scenery!!

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As we neared the lakes, we were dusted with the first snowflakes of the year.  It was surreal to watch them float down from the blue sky above, gracefully swaying and landing softly upon us.  It felt like the mountain was happy to host us for those brief moments, and perhaps even blessing our winter ahead.  Washing our spirits clean, as Muir predicted.

Nancy and the kids kept going past the lakes, all the way to the top of Hatch Peak:

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We left with a happy boy,

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A tired dog,

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And a little girl’s best hike ever:

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Not to mention this little girl’s first hike all by herself:

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Things did get a bit chilly on the way down… almost there Maggie!

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It turns out that Nancy’s request for a night in the woods was a gift to us all.  We traveled a mere hour from our front porches, and only spent one night.  We focused on our children, our friendships, and the inspirational scenery around us.

Our getaway was brief, but Muir’s words still rang true:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
~John Muir, Our National Parks, 1901