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


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Gratitude Day 2: Happy Endings & Lessons Learned

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What a relief that no one was hurt in last week’s magnitude 6.2 earthquake that rattled Alaskans.

My school library sustained some decent damage, but my ego may have taken the biggest hit of all.  Here’s the scoop:

There were three classes in the library that morning, in addition to about a dozen kids on individual passes.  When the shaking started I was walking down the hallway with one of the groups, on my way to a budget meeting near the main office.  We initially thought the commotion was due to the construction that is currently taking place in our school.  It was quickly apparent that the entire building was shaking and we were in the midst of a massive earthquake, so we got the kids into nearby classrooms and underneath door jams.

As soon as the shaking stopped I sprinted back to the library, where kids and teachers were emerging from underneath the tables in a state of shock.  A quick glance around the room revealed damage, so I snapped a few cell phone photos and immediately reported the findings to my principals:

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One of my principals was on the scene within moments, and he immediately evacuated the library.  He declared that no one would be allowed to re-enter until the engineers could ensure the safety of the space, so we got everyone out and locked up the doors.  I put up a sign and headed to the front office to wait for the maintenance crew to arrive.

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Our library is shared by both a middle and high school, so I sent an email to the teachers at both of my schools to let them know the library was closed until further notice.  I attached my cell phone snapshots so they could see for themselves why we were evacuating.

And while I was an evacuee I found a spare moment to upload a few pictures to Facebook as well.

Fast forward 30 minutes or so.  That’s how long it took for me to discover one of my photos – the one with the students crouching underneath the tables – was published on the front page of the Alaska Dispatch News website.  They even gave me credit for the photo!

Say what?!

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It’s not like there was anything wrong or inaccurate with the photo, but I had not sent it to the media.  No one asked my permission to use the image.  So how did they get it?

My Facebook account is private, but I knew someone on my friend list could have easily forwarded the image.  I deleted my post about the earthquake, but it was too late.  The image kept turning up everywhere.

KTUU, our local television news station, posted it without any attribution.

My school district posted it to its Facebook and Twitter accounts:

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And then the picture went viral:  MSNBC and CNN picked up the posts from there:

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Honestly, I have no idea where else it was posted, viewed, tweeted, and shared.  Nor will I ever know.

In the after shock of the earthquake, I learned – firsthand – a very important lesson I have already taught hundreds of students during Internet safety presentations:  Once you put something on the Internet, you lose all control.

Later that afternoon I discovered how the photo went viral.  Would you believe it wasn’t due to Facebook at all?!  A teacher at one of my schools is married to a local journalist, and she forwarded my “Library Closed” email to her husband.  She was sending the pictures as a wife to her husband, simply saying, “Wow, look what happened at my school!” and not as an undercover tip.

I could choose to be angry, but instead I choose to appreciate her honesty.  I’d still be wondering how that photo got out if she hadn’t approached me with the truth.  I choose to accept that the mistake was actually my own, and I will never again email or share anything unless I’m comfortable with it seeping out of my control.

(Honestly, I live a pretty benign life and this has never been an issue for me before.  Trust me, if you hack my iCloud account you won’t find anything but puppy pictures and video clips of my kids’ piano recitals.  And a few earthquake pictures, of course.)

It’s not like there was anything wrong with my viral photo, but as an educator I’m conscientious about posting student images online.  I was worried parents might be upset at the image of children crouched underneath tables with debris falling above their heads, even though I knew everyone was safe.  When the district posted the photo on its social media accounts I breathed a sigh of relief, because obviously that meant the communications department approved.

More importantly, I choose to learn from this experience.  I spent the evening after the earthquake collecting screenshots of all the places I found the picture published, and I plan to use them in my new and improved Internet safety presentations.  Honestly, what good is any experience in life if you don’t learn from it?

And most importantly, I choose to be grateful for the leadership of my principal, whose call to evacuate the library was absolutely correct.  The structural engineers found additional issues and crews worked through the weekend so we could safely reopen our doors today.

Our happy ending, after some important lessons learned!  I am grateful for both!


Gratitude Day 1: Maggie & Marley

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There is a Gratitude Challenge going around on Facebook right now.  It encourages people to spend a few minutes each day reflecting upon their blessings, and then posting about them.  Last week I was nominated, and I have decided to accept the challenge.

Sorta.

I am blessed to say that listing 15 things, people, moments, or experiences for which I am grateful is an easy task.  So I’ve decided to transform this task into a writing challenge for myself.  Can I carve out some time for the next 15 days to write about these moments of gratitude?  I will certainly try!

On this Day 1 I am grateful for literacy.  For education.  For great authors and their amazing books.

Books that changed my life, like Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret  when I was a a child and A Thousand Splendid Suns as an adult.  Books that change my students’ lives, like Speak.  Books that kids love but adult try to prohibit… like The Fault in Our Stars.  Books that bond my family, like Harry Potter and Matilda.  Books that keep my son up into the wee hours of the light… from his early reading days of Ready Freddy to his annoying phase with Diary of a Wimpy Kid to all the sports book he now inhales by Tim Green and Mike Lupica.  And books that keep my daughter up into the wee hours like… um…. hmmmm…

To be honest, there haven’t been any.

Until now.

Bring on Marley.

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It’s not that Maggie doesn’t like books.  She is first to leap onto the couch during family read aloud nights, and the silly humor of Mo Willams has always been her favorite.  But Marley is the first book she’s read on her own that has made an emotional connection for her; the first book to teach her the power of falling in love with a character in print.

Maggie came home from her school library with the young reader adaptation of Marley and Me by John Grogan.  I’ve read the adult version and know the basic plot:  crazy cute yellow lab puppy (Marley) becomes the heart of a family.  But those of us who have endured Old Yeller and How the Red Fern Grows know how this ends.

I knew we were in trouble when Maggie asked, “Why did my librarian say this book is sad?  It’s soooooo funny!!”  She proceeded to read me the part where the author met “Clearance Dog,” the breeders’s nickname for Marley:

He plowed full steam into me, throwing  a cross-body block across my ankles.  Then he pounced at my shoelaces as though he was convinced they were dangerous enemies that needed to be destroyed.

She was laughing so hard she could hardly get the words out.  Clearance Dog.  Shoelaces as enemies.  Good stuff when you have a new puppy of your own that acts the same way.

Fast forward a few weeks, and all was calm in our home.  It was the 9:00ish hour, and the kids were upstairs reading.  I too had retired with a good book, and Clark was downstairs watching TV.

Cue the wailing.

The screeches from Maggie’s room were so intense that everyone raced to check on her.  Even Sam.  Based on the intensity of her outburst I fully expected to see blood, but it turns out her trauma was purely emotional.

It was grief.  Pure, unencumbered, intense grief.  She had finally read far enough into the book to realize that poor Marley was not immortal.  I’d tried to prepare her, but she insisted she could handle the book.

Clearly she had fallen in love with Marley more than we realized.  She has since finished the book – more tears were shed, but thankfully they were less intense.  And she says it was worth the read, even though it ripped her heart out.

I hope Marley is the first of many characters Maggie will grow to love on her own, and someday she too will realize what a gift it is to live in a country where literacy is a core value.


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Purple Noodle Soup

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It’s soup season in Alaska, but we seem to have a carrot crisis in this house.

Last weekend it was the beef stew.  The meat was already tenderizing and veggies half chopped before I realized we were out of carrots.  Apparently the kids are devouring them in their lunch boxes.

Last night it was chicken noodle soup.  Once again my children had inhaled 5 lbs of carrots in a few short days, and I had no idea.  We don’t live close to a grocery store, it was already 6 PM, and I decided chicken soup with two carrots would be just fine.

Maggie, on the other hand, made it her mission to canvas the neighborhood for the sake of our soup. She came home with four beautiful purple carrots:

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I had never heard of purple carrots, but as I peeled and chopped I became a convert.  Clearly these beauties would make this batch of soup extra special.

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Just how special I did not know.  Would you believe my new purple friends turned the entire batch of soup purple?  No artificial dyes required!

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It tasted the same as usual, but the kids loved it a little more.

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It wasn’t quite Stone Soup, but it still felt like a community effort.  We sent a few bowls of our purple concoction to the neighbors, thanking them for the carrots.  We hope the enjoyed it as much as we did!