Tuesday, March 27, 2012

a book a month

Journal, March 2012

I don't make a lot of New Year's Resolutions. I like to look back, set intentions for the future, create possibilities. But I don't "resolve" to do many things for an entire year. This year, however, I resolved to read more. Specifically, these awesome things called books. Even more specifically, these even more awesome things called novels.

They say You are what you eat. For writers, they say You are what you read. I read a lot online, and while it's fun and interesting, and it can make me feel connected and keep me up-to-date on news both small and large, it's not Reading. Reading like falling into a new world. Being transported. Sinking into someone else's luxury or poverty so completely that, for moments, you forget your own everyday reality.

Yet reading for pleasure, reading to feed myself as a person and as a writer, is often crowded off my to-do list by other items, either more urgent or more in-the-moment. So this year I set myself the quite enjoyable resolution to read a book a month.

In January, I read The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin. In February, I read Save Me The Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald. My interest in Zelda Fitzgerald was sparked by watching Midnight in Paris, the Woody Allen movie. (If I ever had a daughter, I might name her Zelda. Of course, Zelda Fitzgerald had schizophrenia and died in a fire in a mental hospital at age 48. But I do still love the name.) This month, I read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, a wonderful Gothic mystery, a literary page-turner totally worth a spot on your bedside table.

It feels so good to read novels again! Any suggestions for April?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

what she really wants

Mural, Cartagena, Colombia, April 2005

What she really wants is a giant bed, white and high off the ground, layered in mosquito netting like the dream of a wedding veil, the covers tiered like a frothy white cake. A ceiling fan to stir the air. Windows open to sound of jungle, or waves. She chooses both. It's her fantasy.

What she really wants is a tray with fresh-squeezed juice and perfect baguette, creamy butter and tart-sweet jam. Red. Has to be red.

An infinity pool the color of the sky.

A nighttime walk through a jungle teeming with sound, but no strange biting bugs landing on her.

A waterfall to swim under. A secret cave, a hidden resting spot behind. Hot springs and bubbling lava - the lava from a distance.

She craves sleeping soundly and being awoken by tropical birds, watching the sunrise, then going back to sleep. Being lazy. Having it be okay to be lazy.

Smoothie at the pool at lunchtime, in smoothie weather. Fruity cocktails at night in icy glasses with marashino cherry stems sticking up from the pale-pink concoctions.

She craves color and silence. She craves snuggling in a big white bed. She craves rest - physical, mental, emotional. Especially emotional.

She craves the feeling of "here you are" that comes when you have enough time to look around and notice the scenery.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Costa Rica!

Riding the Tilden Steam Train, Berkeley, February 2012

We decided to take the leap into our first international travel with kids.

We picked Costa Rica because:
1) neither of us has been there and we both want to go;
2) it's Spanish speaking, and we miss speaking - and hearing - Spanish;
3) when I'm in a Latin American country I feel like I'm really away;
4) yet we've traveled enough in Latin America to feel fairly comfortable;
5) CR is developed enough and touristy enough that it doesn't seem too intimidating a place to travel with little ones;
6) it's got lots of cool nature, and we like nature; and
7) somehow we convinced our dear Irish friends, travelers extraordinaire, to go along with us.

8) Can you tell I've been writing a lot of grant applications lately?

If you've been, and especially if you've been with kiddos in tow, let me know -- Where would you go? Would you bring a stroller? And do you know any fabulous Costa Rican babysitters so that we can have some adult dinners that involve fruity cocktails and uninterrupted conversation?

Friday, March 16, 2012


We are all wanderers on this earth.
Our hearts are full of wonder
And our souls are deep with dreams.
-Gypsy proverb

Still life at Cardiff Beach, California, December 2011

Monday, March 12, 2012

to the snow

When my 5-year-old got excited over a pile of dirty ice in the corner of the Andronico's parking lot, I realized it really was time to take him to the mountains to see some snow.

On Serene Lake, Soda Springs, California, March 2012

This was one of those trips where the planning falls apart in several different ways, enough to make superstitious types wonder whether you should go at all, or if you should just stay home and remain in your PJs as much of the weekend as possible.

Back in the days when I was completely terrified of flying, these kind of omens would have done me in for a trip that involved an airplane. But luckily, we were driving, and besides my insistence that we stop to buy tire chains on the way up, fussy children and all, I managed to resist that kind of worry.


So I decided to not do much planning. We abandoned our original idea - to go to South Lake Tahoe with friends - and instead struck out for Soda Springs, near Truckee, on our own. We brought a trunk full of snow clothes and boots, borrowed for the kids, our own dug deep out of storage. We brought sleepers and a crib and a bunch of food, and decided to play it by ear whether we would spend the night or not.

Play it by ear -- words I never thought I would utter referring to travel with small children. I felt daring and spontaneous, despite the children fussing away in the backseat.

Once we got up there and saw how gorgeous it was, we decided to stay. Plus, it was already 3 p.m., and it was supposed to snow the next day.


I'm so glad we stayed. Since we stayed at a small (oddly sweltering 85-degree indoors) lodge, we put the kids to bed and then went downstairs and had dinner just the two of us. Radical!

And then the next day, we woke up to snow. Not just the forecast snow showers, but a solid 5 inches of flakes falling all morning long.

Emry took a nap in the lodge while Elan, Mikhail and I sledded just outside.


Emry was not so into the snow. He couldn't move much in the thick snow clothes, he couldn't grab the pinecones he so dearly wanted with mittens on, he couldn't crawl because his knees kept slipping, and he couldn't walk in the snow boots we borrowed, which were probably about 4 sizes too big for his tiny feet.


But he loved hanging out in the lodge, where the under-6 set was well-represented.

Elan loved the snow. And Mikhail and I loved the snow. It felt like such a victory for me that we made it there.


Friday, March 9, 2012

words for 2012

In what has become a yearly tradition, right around New Year's, Mikhail and I took a walk on the beach and figured out some words to express what we are hoping for this year.

I know it's March now, and I'm talking about January, but bear with me. I needed to let these words grow on me a little before I was ready to share them.

Besides, being on time isn't one of my strengths.

Once we figure out the words, we write them in the sand. Last year, we had this fabulous sunset and it was all very inspiring. This year, the fog blew in dense and cold. But we persevered, Emry in the Ergo on my back chewing on beach rocks and then making a game of throwing them at Mikhail.


Love. Because there's really no other good reason to have children in this day and age. I realize for a handful of families in this country, and for many families in other countries, kids are still a labor force. But it's not like Elan's going to be taking our herd of goats out to pasture anytime soon.

Kids cost a bunch of money, they take up all your time, and they throw food all over the carpet. But in my house, they also increase the love exponentially. Both Mikhail and I have found that when we focus on the love, it makes the craziness feel more manageable -- and less important.


Light. It just felt like a good word to me. I was looking ahead to Elan's surgery and imagining that it could be a difficult winter. So as much as the literal definition sounded good on this chilly winter afternoon -- light, warmth, coziness -- the figurative image of a guiding light, something to focus on as you're making your way through dark times, appealed to me too.

Speaking of light, it was getting quite dark by this time. Emry was fussing, we were all cold, but we still had a ways to walk back to the car, and we were hammering away at this next idea. Mikhail finally got it.


Taking the next step. Wow, does this phrase sound confronting to me. I don't know exactly why, but it really triggered me that afternoon on the beach. It sounded HARD. Like it would require a lot of courage and determination and hard work. Not that those are bad things, I just wondered - Am I ready to take the next step? Sometimes I think I am still in new baby survival mode, sleepless and with the mental fuzziness my mother-in-law calls "milk brain." And sometimes I am (though the sleeplessness is often not caused by the baby - I'm talking about you now, 5-year-old who hasn't slept through the night in 10 nights). But this is an exercise about reaching for something, so I went with it.

And it's interesting - I've already seen taking the next step play out in my life these last few months. Jumping into an opportunity to substantially increase my grantwriting workload, which increases our family's chaos level but also increases the money I bring into the family? Taking the next step. Deciding we're feeling adventurous enough to take on traveling internationally for the first time with our kids? Taking the next step. It even has a literal meaning to me these days, as I watch Emry string together his steps - 3, 5, 10 at a time.

Sometimes you have to challenge yourself.

And sometimes you have to eat Girl Scout cookies with a cold glass of milk and go to bed early.

Deciding when you're going to push yourself and when you're going to hunker down with the cookies? I believe that's called being a grown-up.