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Mockingbirds and Meano

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You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
~Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

I’ve been home sick a few days this week.  The first night I was worthless, shivering under the covers with a high fever and sleeping for nearly 16 straight hours.  But now that the worst has (hopefully) passed I’ve been binge reading.  Yesterday I finished re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I rarely re-read books, but with Harper Lee’s new novel coming out this summer it seemed like a good idea.  I don’t remember exactly when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, but this second reading was a profoundly different experience.

I still cried for Tom Robinson, but I cried almost everywhere else too.  I was misty-eyed and tingly-nosed through the whole damn book!  From Scout getting that beating she just didn’t deserve to Jem refusing to leave his father’s side at the jail… I was a blubbery mess.

I still marveled at Atticus Finch’s courage and convictions, but this time I just thought he was a really good dad.  When I finished the book, I wanted to be that kind of  parent.  I felt inspired.

Wouldn’t you know at dinner that night I got my very first chance?

The kids were talking about Nemo, a giant bully of a dog who lives down the road.  They actually call him “Meano” and it’s not entirely unwarranted.  The first run-in with this animal was admittedly our fault, but traumatic none-the-less.  The kids were bopping down the road with their new puppy, Tess, last fall.  She noticed Nemo lying in his yard and thought he looked like a big, fluffy playmate.  She tugged, the kids dropped her leash, and before they knew it Tess was bolting up Nemo’s driveway.  Let’s just say Nemo didn’t like that too much.  He grabbed her by the neck, dragged her into the ditch, and (in Nemo’s owner’s words) “immobilized” her.

Sam and Maggie’s shrieks could have brought the bears straight out of hibernation.  Tess was immobilized by Nemo, but my children were in the middle of the road immobilized by fear.  I flew out the front door and watched in horror as Nemo’s owner pulled his dog off our puppy and trotted away without a word.

Thankfully Tess was fine, but Sam and Maggie were still hysterically shrieking.  I was trying to calm them when Nemo’s owner came back – with his brutus dog on leash this time.  “I feel terrible that your children were so scared,” he said.  He wanted the kids to pet Nemo, but this dog clearly did not want to be touched.  He told us about Nemo:  his breed, his training, and explained that he is very protective.  (Ya think?!)  He claimed Nemo would never bite, but is only trained to immobilize.  He kept giving Nemo commands in German, followed by “NOT ASKING!” whenever Nemo resisted.  Nemo was lunging at Tess the entire time, so I thanked him for coming by and got into the safety of our house as quickly as possible.

Since then, that dog tries to attack Tess every time we walk down the road.  He has broken his line to chase after her, even when we are on the opposite side of the street.  It’s gotten to the point where if Nemo is outside, the kids are not allowed to walk past the house.  Trust me, this isn’t a rule I worry about them breaking.

Before we went on vacation this winter, Sam and Maggie warned the dog sitter about “Meano.”  They launched into the entire saga, and she listened patiently.  Sure enough, when we were in Hawaii I got a worrisome text from her:

“So I was walking Tess, and the big dog your kids call Meano pulled his stake out of the ground and came for her.  It was terrifying.  I think the only reason it didn’t go for her was because I kept standing in the way.  He kept lunging for Tess tho, snapping at her.  It was scary.  The owner heard me shouting and just slooowwwly walked out to get his bully of a dog.  Ugh.  I’m just shaking, I thought he was going to go for her.”

So fast forward to dinner last night.  Maggie was mad.  Every day after school half the neighborhood comes over and all the kids play outside.  Tess is like one of the children, chasing bikes and running after soccer balls.  Well, yesterday Tess couldn’t play part of the time because Nemo was off leash in his yard.  We didn’t want to risk a brawl, so we brought her inside for a while.

“I’d like to kill that dog!!” Maggie fumed.

So there it was, my moment to respond.  Should I validate her anger, or admonish her vengeance?  What would Atticus do?

There were plenty of challenging neighbors in To Kill a Mockingbird, and that nasty old Mrs. Dubose came to mind.  “Plain hell” is how Scout described her.  She’d scream at Jem and Scout every time they walked by, but when she started insulting Atticus Jem couldn’t handle it any longer.  He trashed her garden in a fit of rage, and the ensuing punishment was brutal: he had to sit at Mrs. Dubose’s bedside and read to her for several hours each afternoon.

By the end of the book we learn a little more about nasty Mrs. Dubose, and I wondered if there might be more to Meano as well.

“You remember that first time Nemo went after Tess?” I asked Maggie.  Of course she did.  “Remember how his owner said Nemo is trained to protect him?  I’ve been thinking about that.  We don’t know that man.  We don’t know his story.  What if something sad or scary has happened in his life, and he needs to be protected?  We just don’t know.

“But I do know you.  I know you’re mad at that dog, and scared of it.  You worry he could hurt Tess.  But you love animals so much – especially dogs – and I know you would never really wish it dead.”

I hoped not anyway.

For once Maggie was quiet.  She shook her head and looked at her plate, and who knows what was rolling through her crazy little mind.

I’m convinced Harper Lee created one of the greatest literary heroes in all of fiction with Atticus Finch.  He may not be real, but he’s still a role model.

Harper Lee is now 88, and her late sister said she can barely see or hear any longer. I hope those who discovered her second novel, Go Set a Watchmen, have as much integrity as Atticus Finch and are truly following her wishes by publishing it.

After all, it’s a sin to hurt a mockingbird.


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From Get Lit to Get Fit

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After all these years it’s clear that my book club will never be the kind of group that sits in an organized circle, methodically responding to prepared literary questions about symbolism as we tactfully draw G-rated allegories between the text and our own lives.

Nope.  Not us.

Instead, we all roll in like tornadoes, one after the other, carrying bundles of food and bellying right up to the bar where four or five boisterous conversations (not about the book) are already happening simultaneously, each competing to be heard over the other.

Welcome to Get Lit.

Sometimes it’s charming, but even we admit that we can be downright annoying.  A few months ago my friend Nancy’s mom was in town for our monthly meeting, and she had an epiphany afterwards:  “I should have taken out my hearing aids!”

What can I say?  We are a passionately opinionated bunch, and a month’s worth of life experiences between our meetings is just too much to contain.

If anything can keep us on track, it’s a good theme.  And this month we nailed it!  We read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail.  It’s Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of a solo hiking excursion through California, Oregon, and Washington.

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The book inspired us to make campfire dinners.  We chopped up scads of veggies – potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers – and stirred them up with fresh herbs and plenty of seasonings.  Ideally we would have cooked them in a big old fire pit, but it was a windy night so we opted for the oven instead.  They still turned out great!  Janelle learned a slick trick back in her Girl Scout days:  squirt your initial with cheap mustard on the outside of the foil.  The letter will burn on the foil as it cooks, so everyone is sure to receive their own customized concoction.  Perfect meal, and easiest cleanup ever!

(Perhaps if we were a better book club we would have made an allegory between these initials and Strayed’s quest to shed her own scarlet letter along the PCT… but instead we just dug in and enjoyed.)

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After dinner we laced up our hiking shoes and took a little stroll.  We are blessed have a Pacific Coast Trail right outside our front door, and even though it was a cool, blustery evening we all hit that trail.  What better way to honor the book?!

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Maybe we should change our name from Get Lit to Get Fit?  It was a great walk… we broke into smaller groups as we headed up the mountain, and for once we didn’t seem so ridiculously loud.  (Although I was not worried about bears with this group… no whistle required!)

When we got back to my house we actually talked about the book!  We had very different opinions about really good questions (most found here).  Our on-task chat (we were so proud!) was only cut short because we were dying to watch the film adaptation of the book.  We broke out the fleece blankets, scrunched together on the couch, and cued up the movie Wild starring Reese Witherspoon.

We loved it!  If it hadn’t been so late when the movie ended, we would have debriefed for hours.  The next day my friend Nancy kept texting me incredibly profound reflections… about the Pacific Coast Trail becoming an actual character in the story, about women being “in the driver’s seat” of their lives, about the mantras we tell ourselves…

Woah.

Me?  I just wanted to know how they did that scene where Reese Witherspoon ripped off her toenails.  That couldn’t be real, could it?

Book club is always a highlight of my month, but last night was especially positive, healthy, special, and thought-provoking.  As long as I have this group of women in my life, I will never need to walk 1000 miles to clear my head or fill my tank!


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Puppy Dog Birthday: A Perfect Paw-ty Theme!

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Maggie asked for a puppy-themed 9th birthday party.  My initial reaction was, “Aren’t you a little old for that?”  But in my quest to be a less-controlling mother, I let it go and agreed that a puppy party was a brilliant idea.  As usual, when I let my children take the lead on things like this (you know, things that matter hugely to them yet not at all in the grand scheme of life) it turned out great!

The invitation frustrated me at first, but once I found the right font it all came together.  We made a few versions:  one for the school girls who were invited for the slumber party, and another for the neighbor boys who wouldn’t stay the night.  It was a slight change of wording, otherwise they looked the same:

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I scoured Pinterest for cake ideas, and since I’m getting smarter I only pinned cakes I could actually replicate.  With my skill set, that means fondant frosting is out.  It’s beautiful, but what’s the point in showing Maggie all the beautiful cakes only a more talented mother could make?  In the end, she chose this blissfully easy cupcake cake and we both felt good about it!

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It took 24 cupcakes and minimal dye (just a little Wilton black coloring in the chocolate icing for the eyes, nose, and paw prints).  Here is the approximate cupcake layout if you decide to make this cake:

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My friend’s three-year-old daughter was at the party, and she said to me, “Staci, that was the goodest cupcake I ever ate in my whole life.”  Look at how adorable she is and just imagine those words coming out of her little puppy mouth:

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Oh the cuteness!!!!  The face painting was a hit.  All you need is white, black, and red paint to transform your party guests into adorable puppies!

A few weeks before the party, Maggie picked out a tiny stuffed dog for every party guest.  We ordered these on Amazon.com because they were less expensive, shipped for free, and had better selection than we could find locally.  Maggie created a little Pet Adoption center for the stuffies, and handed them out at the beginning of the party.  She personally selected a breed she knew each child would love, and everyone was happy with their animals.

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The kids named their new furry friends, and were invited to make a leash/collar and blanket at their leisure.  The collars were created with a few simple supplies from the bead aisle at Michael’s:  colored shoelace strings and a few small bags of beads (some with letters, some just decorative).  They ended up being a bit long for collars and the girls either trimmed them or pretended they were leashes.

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We also had squares of fleece fabric for the kids to make no-sew tie blankets for their dogs.

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Lia got creative and tied two blankets together, and then used the strings from the collars to make a purse to carry her new furry friend!

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For food, we grilled hot dogs (of course) and set out bowls of chips and plates of veggies.  We just prayed the kids would eat more veggies than chips!

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With eight kids spending the night, our saving grace was good weather.  They spent 90% of the evening outside on their bikes or in the alders (which they still call “Monkeyville” and I still don’t fully understand).  We did have a random cloud pass by that dropped graupel and borderline hail for about 30 minutes, but otherwise the weather was shockingly ideal for April in Alaska:

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Eventually everyone came in for cake and gifts.  The girls decided to eat their cake and ice cream like canines (this required massive cleanup) but the sound of their laughter was worth it!

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In lieu of gifts, Maggie asked for dog toys… with the full disclosure that some would go to our dog Tess and the rest to Friends of Pets.  I’m so glad we issued that disclosure, because Tess got into the donation bag the next morning.  Sigh.

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Maggie’s brother got her a dog encyclopedia – the very one she has had checked out from my library for months.  She was thrilled, and I can finally return this very overdue book!

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We wound down with a dog-themed movie – Because of Winn Dixie – and planned to serve popcorn (AKA “pupcorn”) but the kids played outside so long that the birthday cupcakes doubled as the snack instead.  The movie was an absolute hit!

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It was a pretty perfect paw-ty, complete with a little northern lights viewing right before bedtime.  The girls slept until almost 9 the next morning, and Clark served them all his “world famous cinnamon rolls” for breakfast.  From there they got dressed, brushed their teeth, and organized their gear before heading back outside to bike and play until parent pickup time around 11:00.

It’s taken a few days to recover…. the paw-ty part was easy, but an 8-kid-sleepover should be approached with the same caution as an untrained pit bull!


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A Puppy Party

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We have officially survived a full year of puppyhood with Tess!

In retrospect, we should have purchased stock in Costco paper towels, Resolve carpet cleaner, and ridiculous Petco dog toys.  Maybe we still should?  Our little Labrador may look full-sized, but she is still a puppy at heart.  She likes to pop soccer balls, chomp on XtraTufs, and play hide and seek with our socks.

Despite her antics, the kids started talking about Tess’s birthday months ago, so I knew the day would not pass without a special celebration.

Maggie and I baked some canine cupcakes for the big event… safe for dogs, disgusting for humans, and topped with Milk Bones.

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Since Tess is one, she was only allowed to invite one friend to her party.  Of course she picked her best bud Bonnie, a yellow lab she’s been playing with since she was a few months old.

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The party was complete with gifts – which we threw in a box.

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Since Tess has popped a ridiculous amount of soccer balls, the kids picked out a dog toy that looks like a soccer ball.  She loves it!

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When it was time for cake, the dogs sat patiently and waited for their treats:

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I couldn’t ignore the fact that Tess was born on April Fool’s Day.  As we baked her pupcakes, I promised the kids a special pan of brownies to celebrate our brown dog’s birthday.

Let’s just say they weren’t impressed with my “Brown-E’s” !!  April Fool’s!!!

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Luckily our friend saved the day by coming with a much tastier dessert – a bone shaped rice krispie treat!

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I’m not sure we’ll hold doggie birthday parties every year, but I must admit it was kinda fun.  Happy Birthday Tess!


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Gratitude 15: Hawaii Highlights

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One of the best things about living in the 49th state is its proximity to the 50th state.  Hop on an Alaskan Airlines jet, and a mere six hours later you find yourself in a Hawaiian paradise.  It’s magical.

Here’s a little photo journey of our Spring Break 2015 – definitely something to be thankful for!

We’ve traveled from Anchorage to Maui four times, and for this fifth Hawaiian trip (talk about gratitude!) we decided to explore the Big Island instead.  We didn’t quite hit the jackpot with the weather — it rained for 6 of our 10 days.  Luckily, we did hit the jackpot with family time:  both my parents and Clark’s mom joined us for this vacation!

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My parents almost had to cancel at the last minute when my dad tore a tendon in his hand the week before departure.  The kids were so disappointed that Grandpa couldn’t make it, so we kept his rescheduled flight a secret in case it didn’t work out.  Thankfully, he was able to come a few days after surgery.  Imagine the surprise when we went to Costco, and came home with Grandpa!  He missed four days of the trip, but what better place to heal than Hawaii?

The lava fields of the Big Island were vastly different from anything we had ever seen on Maui.  It felt like we were on the surface of the moon!  Our favorite lava tube was a rocky, rugged one we discovered on Highway 19 just north of the airport.

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The lava at Kekaha Kai State Park was fascinating:

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This island isn’t all rock, though.  We go to Hawaii for beach time, and north of Kona we found plenty of white sand and big waves.  Our first trip to award winning Hapuna Beach was on a cloudy day, but the kids still had a ball:

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The next Hapuna excursion was sunny… and after several days of rain it was crowded as well!

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Despite the crowds, we found a cozy corner of the beach and plenty of surf and sun.  The waves were enormous and lifeguards had their hands full keeping all the swimmers safe.  The water was great for boogie boarding!

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This was our sunniest day of the entire trip, and we soaked it in!

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Even though Grandma Cox doesn’t swim, she waded out into the ocean at Hapuna Beach.  The kids were thrilled!

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My mom doesn’t swim either, and my dad wasn’t supposed to get his hand wet… but somehow they both ended up in the water as well!  File these under “Don’t show the surgeon!!”

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We also visited Mauna Kea Beach.  It was a nice beach but a cool, cloudy day.  Maggie (as usual) swam the entire time, but most of us stuck to the beach.  Clark did snorkel a bit, but the surf was pretty choppy.  Grandpa tried (and hated) Sam’s favorite dried seaweed snacks.

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The craziest beach we found was the Punalu’u black sand beach.  It might look like mud, but it was solid sand.  (Wet sand because of the recent rains, but sand nonetheless.)

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In Maui we had a habit of walking the beaches every morning, and daily walks were part of the Big Island routine as well.  Our favorite was the rocky trail between the Marriott and Hilton resorts.  It was lined with black lava rock, white coral, and a canopy of trees.  There was plenty to see in the tidepools along the shore, and the humpback whales jumped in the distance.

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The trail was always lined with lava rock graffiti that was fun to read, especially the marriage proposals!

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Besides beaches, the big ocean event of the trip was a snorkel trip in Kealakekua Bay to the Captain Cook Monument.  We took the Fair Winds II afternoon charter.  No plastic bag could protect my dad’s hand enough for this trip, so he enjoyed the boat ride and played photographer for everyone.  This could make a lovely Christmas card next year:

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With the assistance of tubes, both non-swimming grandmas hopped into the ocean!  There were viewing boxes for people who don’t want to put their faces or ears in the water.  I highly recommend this cruise, even for people who fear water.

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My dad managed to get a few photos with all six of us snorkeling together, in addition to some other fun photos.

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We saw a few whales and even spinner dolphins (from a distance) on our way home from the Captain Cook Monument.

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When the kids weren’t in the ocean, they were most likely in the pool back at our condo complex.  It was surrounded with lava rock and the hot tub was heavenly.  We brought along Sam’s world globe beach ball so he could pretend to study for his upcoming geography bee!

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The nearby Hilton pool was fun too – it had waterslides, waterfalls, hot tubs, river walks, flamingos, and even parrots you could pet!

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When it wasn’t swimming pools, it was the pool table back at the condo that kept the kids entertained!

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Our condo had plenty of room for everyone.  We could even see snow on the top of Mauna Loa from our lanai!

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The condo had a kitchen worthy of our two Costco runs, not to mention an outdoor grill on our lanai.  We cooked every meal except two.  When it came time to eat out, several people recommended the Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea, where we were shocked to see pancakes bigger than our faces:

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Less impressive was the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Kailua, but at least we didn’t have to do dishes!

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Also in the Kailua area, we toured Greenwell Farms coffee plantation.  Maggie got a fresh avocado – it was so fun to see all the fruit trees!

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Of course the trip to Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park was a must.  It was another rainy, overcast day… but at least it was dry in the lava tubes!

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Mom and I saw one impressive sunset from the Lava Lava Beach Club at Anaeho’omalu Bay (A-Bay).  A local band provided background music for our windy night, and the mist from the ocean’s white caps sprayed in front of the orange sky.  It was pretty spectacular!

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Hawaii is a magical place, but even better when enjoyed with family.  I am so grateful for another memorable vacation!


Gratitude 14: Done with the Duplex

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February, you nearly killed us!

We used to live in a duplex, and for years we lived in Unit A and rented out Unit B.  It was easy to keep an eye on things when we lived right next door, but now we live all the way across town.  Needless to say, these days it takes a little longer to notice when things go astray at the rental.

And astray they went.

Last month our tenants decided to move to Hawaii, with no intention of telling us they were leaving.  Oh, and they changed the locks before they left.

When we finally got into our old home – the place where we started our family – it was completely trashed.  Filthy.  Full of old beds, couches, and a back yard full of dog waste just waiting for us.  Our smoke-free property was full of cigarette butts and telltale signs of drug use.

We aren’t slumlords or full time property managers, so it felt personal even though we knew this sort of thing happens in the rental market on a regular basis.  My children used to crawl on that carpet that was now stained beyond repair.  My dad did the drywall patch on that now splattered ceiling.  And our sweat equity landscaped the backyard that was now full of feces.

So that was pretty much our February.

We spent nearly every night across town at the duplex.  We celebrated my birthday by ripping out the carpet, and Valentine’s Day was all about removing the popcorn ceiling.  We hardly saw the kids on the long President’s Day weekend, when we dropped them off with family friends to give them a break from the duplex chores (although they helped plenty):

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After all our hard work, I’m proud to say the old place looks fantastic once again.  It’s glowing with new paint, hardwood floors, and a top to bottom scrub down.

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It felt good to get in there and show that home some love again… but oh what a relief to be done with the duplex duties for a while!!


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Gratitude 13: Puppy Love

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I can’t believe it, but our little girl has a boyfriend.

(Don’t worry, I’m not talking about Maggie.  That would warrant counseling, not blogging.)

It’s Tess.  Now that she’s 10 months old, I guess she is practically a teenager in dog years.

For the past week, our neighbor’s dog has been stopping by around 8:30 each night.  He sits on our front porch and gives a few barks to announce his presence.

Let me tell you, it works.  It’s almost like she knows he’s coming!  Her ears perk up, she leaps off the couch, and races down to the front door.  He’s not the most patient of callers, and if she isn’t outside within a few minutes the entire date is a bust.  It’s a challenge, because we still can’t trust her off leash without her training collar (which apparently now doubles as a chastity belt).  But most nights we have been able to get her out in time for a little evening tussle.

Tess’ beau is named Harry.  He has plenty of gray hairs on his muzzle, so he must be an older man.  He lives with the bachelor next door, and roams free in the neighborhood.  Like Tess, he’s a chocolate lab.  I’m pretty sure our neighbors think our puppy is roaming wild all day, when in fact it’s this Casanova:

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Their dates mostly consist of snarls and somersaults, which is apparently great fun in the world of canines:

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It’s fun to watch Tess and Harry play, but I think she still prefers these two:

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The bond between Tess and the kids is incredible.  Sam and Maggie whisper secrets to her all the time.  I can’t hear what they say, but she sits still and listens attentively.  She follows them everywhere, watches them intently, and loves them deeply.  She’s like a third sibling and joins in on their games of hide and seek and soccer.  At night she curls up on the hallway floor between their bedrooms.  She likes Clark and I just fine, but it’s Sam and Maggie that she adores.

Yesterday Tess had the choice to chase Harry down the road, or stay and sled with the kids.  Guess which she picked?

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She’s kind of a pest to sled with, but the kids don’t seem to mind.

I am so grateful that we opened our hearts to another dog.  It wasn’t easy.  At first it felt like we were trying to replace the irreplaceable, but now I see that isn’t the case at all.  Tess is her own dog, and she brings something unique and all her own to our family.  Despite the fact that she shredded a Costco sized pack of paper towels last week (when we opened the garage door it looked like the floor had been carpeted), Tess is growing into a pretty great hound dog.

Harry’s a lucky guy.

 


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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