it's all about me

Some observations after Week 1 of braces

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So, last week I got braces. These are not to be confused with the braces I had at age 8 to fix a few wily teeth growing in odd places, or the braces I had at age 15 to straighten my entire mouth. No, these grown-up braces are to correct everything that my teeth have been doing over the last 29 years. (Hint: they have been very busy!)

I will spare you the details, but in a nutshell I’m now correcting problems like alignment and migration issues, which honestly sounds like my teeth are ready to retire to Boca Raton. I opted for lingual braces, which are metal brackets that attach behind the teeth because I was swayed by the promise of “hidden braces.” Nobody needs to know!

On the plus side, the lingual braces will work magic on my teeth and I don’t have to look like a teenager when I smile. On the downside, there is a major adjustment period while my tongue learns to speak properly with sharp metal objects infringing on its personal space. Supposedly it takes a week or so to adjust but I must be a slow learner because I'm not there yet. It’s been a very long week, my friends. Or as I like to say, my frienths.

My observations so far:

1. The “nobody has to know” is exactly true as long as I don’t talk. Otherwise I sound like I have a lisp AND a mouth full of marbles.

2. Some orthodontists call these braces incognito braces, which sounds very cool and James Bond-like. But I can’t even say the words CIA or spy without spraying myself in the face. So...not very cool at all.

3. I would like to temporarily change my name to Kate because hard letters are much easier to say. “Hi, my name is Lith” is getting so annoying.

4. Also annoying: My kids, who keep asking, "Can I call you Brace Face? What about Metal Mouth? Is it funny yet? What about now?" No and no and no and no.

5. The braces might be the best diet ever because it’s such a hassle to eat that I would almost rather starve to death. A 5-minute snack requires 45 minutes of brushing/flossing/waterpikking nonsense. Math has never been my strong suit, but even I know that’s a raw deal.

6. Having a work-from-home job is a big perk when you are self conscious about every word you say. Until... you have an outside meeting and must explain the new speech impediment. My boss was super supportive and said, “Oh thank God! I thought you had been drinking!”

7. For years my kids and I have been making fun of the way Ed Sheeran pronounces sixth when he sings “Under the lamppost back on 6th Street...” but now I’m convinced he has incognito braces too. Nobody needs to know, Ed! (But now we all do!)

8. My entire vocabulary has suffered. I’m avoiding all kinds of difficult “S” words and resorting to simple, toddler-like conversation. When trying to explain how I thought a recent event in the news could be a “slippery slope for the Supreme Court”...I instead opted for “Ugh. Bad.” Insufficient is now lame. Unconscionable is now mean. Luckily, all my favorite cuss words have hard sounds and have been unaffected.

9. To help buffer the pain, my orthodontist gave me all kinds of wax and goo to put on the brackets. These work pretty well, but I also found that a square of Dove chocolate gets stuck on the brackets just as easily, so I might as well leave it there to enjoy for hours and hours.

10. The Dove chocolate (#9) is sort of ruining my new diet plan (#5) but like I said...it’s been that kind of week, my frienths.

2016.02.LeoLiz Can you tell who has the braces (brathes)?

What's up, November?

   

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Seems like just yesterday we were wondering where September went and now BAM...what happened to October??

Life's been busy, y'all! A few things I've been doing, reading, talking about or just generally enjoying...

* Hiking with my family and telling others how to make it easy and fun. (Hints: Never call it hiking and always bring treats.) Read more about it at The Queso, which incidentally has all kinds of awesomeness planned this month. Tune in!

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* This week REI won my heart (again) when they announced their #OptOutside campaign, in which they will close their doors on Black Friday and encourage employees and the public to spend the day outside with family. Can I get an Amen?

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* Even though the weather in Austin has been cool (ish) lately, my camera and I have been recreating the heat of summer with our friends at Fine & Folded. They sell delightful (and super practical!) hand fans that are a purse essential for 9 months out of the year in Texas. Check them out...You're going to want some of these.

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* I was so excited to have one of my photos featured in the November issue of The Sun, a literary magazine that I have read and admired for decades. When my kids saw it they said, "Oh darn, it's on the last page, Mom..." I said, "YES! That's where everybody turns first!" The whole issue is dedicated to parenthood and family life. As always, it's full of thoughtful, humorous and unforgettable personal stories.

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* My friend Kacie of MamaCasePrints, who is a rockstar T-shirt designer and mom of two, has the most amazing new member of her family: Emma the Labrador service dog. Two years ago Kacie's son Eddy (now almost 4 years old) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. This year, thanks to special T-shirt sales and donations, Eddy has Emma by his side to detect dangerous dips in his blood sugar levels. She has been a game changer for their family and it's only just the beginning. Every single time I read a post about Emma I get chills. Follow them on Instagram and you'll fall in love with their story.

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* My new favorite gift is a custom poem from the talented crew at Typewriter Rodeo. This group of writers has been entertaining events for years by setting up a table and working their magic on the spot. Now they are also offering custom poems for birthdays and special holidays. Here's just one brilliant example of their work. Find them on Facebook for more! (Click image to enlarge and read poem.)

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Other that, I've been throwing together Halloween costumes, trying to track down a cookbook from the library that I lost before I even made it to the kitchen, and texting my friends inane things like this. What have YOU been up to?

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Vacation re-entry

 

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Vacation re-entry is a bitch. Especially when you leave the cool mountains of Colorado for the fiery urban sauna of home. Oh Austin, I'm trying to love you again but right now I'm deep in the stages of grief.

1. Denial. Noooo. This can't be that bad, can it? Sure vacation is over, but it's still summer. I like summer. I like home. I like real life. I like routines and chores. I like heat. Wait, what?

2. Anger. What in holy hell have I done? How did I get home and why is it 1,000 freaking degrees in the shade? Why are my kids asking me for meals or wanting to be taken to the pool? Why am I expected to open the bulging credit card bills that arrived while we were gone? Why do I feel so cramped? Are there suddenly more people in my family? We have spent two solid weeks together! How much more Together Time do they all expect?

3. Bargaining. Maybe if I don't unpack and don't do laundry we can just tack on another trip that leaves tomorrow. Maybe Hubs and I can alternate working while the other drives. We only saw a little snow in Colorado...we really should find some place colder this time. Alaska! Icebergs! I would cancel vacations for the next two years just to get a few more days of fun right now.

4. Depression. I will never be as happy as I was that one day last week, running down the mountain in long sleeves. Or that morning I drank 3 cups of coffee under a rainbow sunrise. Or that night of the outdoor concert when we stretched out at the base of a mountain, the sky changing colors every few minutes, the kids rolling down nearby hills, the wine and laughter with friends mingling into a perfect harmony.

5. Acceptance. If I can't be on vacation, I might as well be earning money toward the next one. School starts soon, and that means more hours in the day to work. Oh joy. But honestly, do I want to be the friend who complains about her vacation hangover? Don't we all hate that person? Ok fine. I'm home. I'm unpacked. I'm dealing. I'll just leave it at that.

 

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How are you surviving the last gasp of summer, my friends? I'm sending y'all strength and air-conditioned vibes!

Things you can do while the kids are at Camp Grandma

 

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1. Go swimming on a whim. At night. Without refereeing the rules of The Splash Game.

2. Empty the kids’ closets of annoying T-shirts, crappy toys the kids won at some arcade party, and half the artwork they brought home from school this spring.

3. Empty the office of annoying emails, crappy pencils the kids left when they stole the good pens, and half the paperwork they sent home from school this spring.

4. Finish every conversation with your spouse, even the one you started 8 months ago.

5. Eat every meal at a restaurant.

6. Run a dishwasher loaded only with coffee mugs. (See above.)

7. Think your own thoughts.

8. Make out in the middle of the afternoon.

9. Binge watch a full season of a kid-unfriendly show.

10. Linger everywhere you go. Or rush. Either way, it’s your decision.

11. Sleep late. Or wake up early. Again, your call.

12. FaceTime the kids. Pretend that y’all are totally bored without them.

13. Get 8 hours of work done in only 3.

14. FaceTime them again. Pretend you don’t miss them and that it’s no big deal one kid doesn’t want to talk to you.

15. Make their beds and tidy their rooms, even though 5 days ago you swore up and down that it was their job for now on, every day, for the rest of their lives.

16. Buy fresh milk and apples.

17. Check the clock. Again.

18. Squeeze their guts when they return.

19. Squeeze Grandma harder.

Music that made me

FullSizeRenderInspired by a recent piece in Rolling Stone magazine, my good friend Nancy from Midlife Mixtape gathered up a group of friends and asked us to share a mixtape of “the songs that made me.” A dozen of us have chimed in. Bless her for giving us a 10-song maximum or we could go on forever. Here goes mine...

1. Put Another Log on the Fire by Tomball Glaser and the Outlaws If you grew up in Texas in the '70s, your family probably owned a vinyl copy of Wanted: The Outlaws, featuring Waylon and Willie and the boys. Sure, one of the boys was female Jessi Colter, but that always seemed natural to me considering I was raised in a decidedly male-centric household. My favorite song on the album was not the popular My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys but instead a tribute to an obnoxious husband and a wife who has been putting up with crap for too long. My brothers and I memorized every last word: “Now don’t I let you wash the car on Sunday? Don’t I warn you when you’re getting fat? Ain’t I gonna take you fishing with me someday? Well I man can’t love a woman more than that....” This song put old-school country music in my blood and established an affection for honky tonks and rowdy singalongs, which would later come in handy during my college years.

2. Brass Monkey by The Beastie Boys Ahh, that funky monkey. Brass Monkey was the first song that I knew my parents would dislike, and I remember feeling thrilled and liberated at this prospect. (If this is out there, just think what else is!) The song played at our 8th grade cotillion dance, where I was sporting my first-ever strapless dress. I'm pretty sure that dress was glued on to make up for my lack of curves. I did not let this precarious ensemble stop me from following The Beastie Boys’ instructions to “Put your left leg down, your right leg up, tilt your head back, let’s finish the cup.” It still takes more than an uncomfortable outfit to get me off a dance floor.



3. Fall on Me by R.E.M. I’ll try not to get too emotional about this one, but Fall on Me was the beginning of a long and devoted relationship with R.E.M. It’s a relationship that has continued even after their breakup a few years ago. I’ve played this song countless times, but I still get woozy when I hear Stipe’s voice cracking when he sings, “Buy the sky and sell the sky / And bleed the sky and tell the sky...” This song (and many other cryptic R.E.M. classics that followed) taught me that I don’t need to know what the lyrics mean to love a song. Sometimes poetry is meant to be felt more than translated.



4. Supernova by Liz Phair Liz is such a badass. That’s my assessment of Ms. Phair...and at one point in my life was also my personal mantra whenever I felt vulnerable. Supernova was a vital part of my soundtrack during the unencumbered, action-packed years that were post-college and pre-mortgage. That time was all about dancing in various apartments or bars, climbing mountain peaks, skiing through trees, and taking spontaneous road trips. For a few brilliant years, my only goal was to build up my invincibility. Thank God nobody told me that supernovas shine brightest when they eventually explode.

5. Misunderstood by Wilco The start of another long, intense band crush began with this song and I can hardly believe it, but I was only 25 years old at the time. I was trying to become an adult and was having all kinds of (laughable, but totally real!) quarter-life crises. Was I really misunderstood or just uninspired by my desk job? Who can say, but wow, this 6-minute-long riff gave me plenty of time to reflect on it. Over and over again.


6. Mary by Patty Griffin A few years before I became a mom, I was at a Ben Harper concert under a canopy of lighted oak trees. During his encore he invited Patty Griffin on stage and the two sang what I consider the most gorgeous tribute to motherhood ever. Perhaps they sat on stools. It was likely acoustic. I don’t recall exactly. What I remember for certain were the goosebumps and the surprising tears and the definite knowing I felt in my gut. Knowing that at some point in my life I wanted to feel what she was singing. My own mother was battling a decades-long illness and it had complicated and hurt our relationship in so many ways. In spite of that, motherhood never scared me. I was determined to someday join that raw and beautiful tribe of women.

7. Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons Sigh No More arrived in my life during a year of heavy loss and deep reflection. My mom was in hospice care and I spent months shuttling back and forth from Austin to Dallas to be with her, leaving behind my three young kids and husband. Depending on the day or the moment or the way the wind was blowing, the lyrics brought either comfort or angry tears. Both responses seemed necessary and acceptable at the time. I was trying to take care of so many hearts, so many loved ones. Just trying to hang on...not to hope so much as peace. Four years later, I still find myself working on the peace part.

8. Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles How many times did I hear this song before it made me? It has always been a favorite Beatles song, but it took decades of listening before it really sank its claws into me. Decades, because that’s how long it took for me to have three kids buckled into the backseat of my car singing “Little darling, the smile’s returning to the faces....” Before I knew it, one child picked the song to study for his 4th grade poetry project. And then another sat at a grand piano and played it in front of a large crowd, singing every lovely note with confidence. George Harrison did it pretty well, but he never quite sounded this sweet. May life always feel as simple as "sun, sun, sun...here it comes."

9. Salvation Song by The Avett Brothers This song reminds me that we’re all just doing the best we can. This world is not for sissies. Sometimes just building a life, raising a family, and keeping your chin up and your spirit buoyant--sometimes that can be the hardest part. But there’s grace in this steady work and beauty in the dedication it requires. All I know how to do is try to find something to smile about every single day. To look for small joys and keep my eye on the prize:  “We came for salvation / We came for family / We came for all that's good that's how we'll walk away.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ftt5KH6TnhE

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But wait, there's more! Check out the songs that my friends shared...

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Replacing the irreplaceable

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If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen this photo. I have an affection for heart-shaped rocks and photograph them whenever I spot one. This particular limestone treasure sits on the property line between our wonderful neighbors and us.

Unfortunately we are losing these neighbors soon and I'm seriously bummed about them leaving our street. They aren’t going far, but anyone who has been lucky enough to have an amazing next-door neighbor knows how special the relationship can be.

So, now that their house is on the market I’ve offered to help screen the shoppers. It’s a crazy world out there and you never know who you’re going to get. To make it easier on all of us, I even drafted a handy questionnaire. For my readers’ benefits, I’ve included the correct answers. If you are a good candidate or know one, I just might put in a good word for you!

1. Do you have kids? Between the ages of 6 and 12?

Correct answer: Yes and Yes. No offense to the young professionals, the empty nesters, the intentionally childless, or the families with babies who make a midlife uterus do nostalgic flip-flops. But yeah...we are looking for neighbors with young kids.

2. Do you like kids?

Correct answer: Oh I get it. Trick question...because not everyone who has kids actually likes kids and not everyone without kids dislikes them. But yes, I like kids. Especially the noisy ones.

3. Is your kid perfect?

Correct answer: Are you serious? What a dumb question. No...Is yours?

4. Will you freak out if my kid acts like an ass to yours?

Correct answer: No? Maybe? I hope not, but if I do, I will be able to talk about it like a grownup. See answer above: kids are not perfect. And newsflash: neither are grownups.

5. What will you do if we see each other early Sunday morning, braless and in jammies retrieving our newspapers?

Correct answer: I will wave from afar. Unless I have really good gossip that cannot wait.

6. Do you keep avocados in stock?

Correct answer: Yes. And if yours is firm and mine is ripe and you need it for a recipe tonight I will gladly trade you.

7. Do you have a dog? Does it sometimes bark?

Correct answers: Yes and yes. It’s a dog...sometimes dogs bark. But I put it inside or give it a bone to chew on when the noise gets too much.

8. Would you mind if you found my kids digging through your recycling bin for building supplies?

Correct answer: No problem, as long as they aren’t drinking from my wine bottles.

9. Do you appreciate the difference between the all-day playdate vs. the 30-minute, outside-only playdate?

Correct answer: Oh yes! The all-day, in-and-out of the house/yard/pantry playdate is awesome and so wonderfully old school. But then there are days when the house is actually clean and you want it to stay that way for more than 5 minutes. And let’s face it, sometimes we need our space. Those days I'm all, “Stay outside! Thirsty? Turn on the hose! Hungry? Wait til dinnertime!”

10. Will you invite me to every single jewelry/kitchen gadget/clothing party you host?

Correct answer: I am allergic to those kinds of parties.

11. If my kid politely asks you to buy whatever kind of scout/charity thing he’s selling, will you buy one?

Correct answer: Every single time.

12. What’s your stance on toilet papering the house and trees?

Correct answer: I don’t if you don’t.

13. Are you going to blog about me behind my back?

Correct answer: I won't if you won't.

Hammering

2015.01.write-1 Sometimes you just have to start. Pick up the damn hammer and put a hole in the wall. How hard can that be? It’s only a tiny hole. Sure, it might end up being in the wrong place...too high, too low, too wonky. There is always potential for error. In fact, you may get a few holes into the project and realize you have the entirely wrong kind of equipment. You may have to pull everything out and start completely over, in the process making a mess or making a scene. Cleaning, patching and cussing invariably follow. If you are lucky, there will be no permanent damage.

But you have to start. You have to remember that this is not your first time. You’ve sat right here, usually in a January much like this one, and you’ve made plans and charted goals. You are not a rookie. You know that starting is the hardest part.

Yet. You are experienced enough to know that once you do finally start, once you make that first hole, you’ll eventually hang something on that hook, and it’s quite possible this something will look like garbage. Perhaps its no fault of the artwork, but once it’s placed, it simply may not work in the spot you imagined. You may find yourself starting all over again. You may have to scrap the plan entirely.

You may even (gasp) have to live for a while with a bare hook on the wall...goading and taunting you for your inability to finish something. That’s certainly one way to look at it. It’s often my default. But you could also take that bare hook as a sign of determination and optimism...a sign of starting. A sign of doing the hardest part.

A sign of picking up the hammer and hammering away.

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Happy New Year, readers!

I’m looking forward to a new year of storytelling through words and images. Thanks for being here and inspiring me to start...and then to keep going. Liz xoxo

First Days

Today my oldest child started middle school and my youngest started kindergarten. Go ahead and ask me how I’m doing. If you were here in person you wouldn’t have to ask because my red, blotchy eyes say it all. My middle child, however, is earning Golden Boy status because the only mama drama he has generated lately are tears of relief that his class is filled with his closest buddies. As if that weren’t enough, last night he hugged me and thanked me, unprompted, for a really awesome summer. I mean seriously.

At bedtime my 5-year-old explained how he did NOT want to go to kindergarten in the morning. He wanted to stay home with me and the dog and play Legos all day. Deep breath. I promised that he would have fun. That his teacher practically invented fun.

“Yeah, Ok,” he replied, “But what about the missing you part?”

Then I went to tuck in my almost 12-year-old, who had been holding it together and keeping herself busy all day. I crawled into bed with her, and her voice caught when she spoke. “I’m nervous. It’s a big day, Mom.”

“Yes, it is,” I said.  “It’s a big day, but it’s also just a day. There are lots of things that will be familiar....You have been to school before (you are great at school). You have had new teachers before and you’ve made new friends before. You have eaten in a cafeteria and carpooled and rode a bus and you’ve even spent an entire day last spring at this school. You know you can do this because you’ve done much of it before.”

That seemed to help. And after a few more curtain calls, all three of them were asleep.

And then the house got quiet and my own tears came. Big, fast ones that came bursting from that deep pool reserved for all things maternal.

“It’s too much,” I told Hubs. “I’m not ready for all this change.”

He rubbed my back and said, “It’s a big day, but it’s also just a day.”

“You’ve taken them to school before. You’ve said goodbyes. You’ve walked away. You’ve worked without a swirl of kids around you and you’ll remember how to do it again. You’ve had a quiet house before and you’ll remember how to enjoy it again. You might even remember how to have lunch with friends. You know you can do this because you’ve done much of this before. And...you’ve given them a really awesome summer.”

Yes. Yes. True.

But what about the missing them part?

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Summer Snapshot pt. 1

It's now half-way through summer and we've hit triple digits here in Austin. I don't even have to look at the thermometer to know for sure, because the clearest sign is that every little thing my family is doing has started to irritate me. Beginning with swiping my stuff every time I turn around. Which is how this came to be... photo 1 copy

And then I realized that even though I'm always happier in the sunshine, I've been finding more and more reasons to stay indoors. Like when this 3-hour reorganizing emergency happened...

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I know, I know....PUT THE LABEL MAKER DOWN AND BACK AWAY SLOWLY.

 

In between the obsessive-compulsiveness, we are tossing in some traditional summertime fun.

Like this...

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And this...

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And this...

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Lots of this...

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And when I'm lucky, some of this...

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But as we know, all play and no work makes for a boring household so I'm also trying to earn the Meanest Mom Ever badge. Exhibit A: insisting that my new 10-year-old finish his birthday thank-you notes while waiting at a doctor's appointment.

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All in all, it's shaping up to be a great second half of summer. Starting tomorrow we are escaping the heat, heading to the mountains, and leaving the label maker and To-Do lists at home. I'm bringing the camera, of course, so follow me on Instagram and just dare me to come back home from paradise.

 

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A day in the life

Does today feel like an ordinary day? Not worth pulling out the camera? Ordinary, maybe. Not worth photographing?Pshaw! I respectfully call bullshit.

In fact, in 10 years I bet you will want to remember pieces of this very average day, no matter how routine the hours seem. I can help you remember. And I can help you see the magic in the everyday. If you follow me here, or on my photography site, or on Instagram, you've seen samples of my work photographing my own family...but I'm also available to come into your home and capture the spirit of your family.

I'm now booking a limited number of sessions for the summer months, and I would love to photograph your family as you go about your amazing, ordinary life. Here are just a few samples from happy clients.

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And here's what some of those clients said afterward...

"Working with Liz is so easy. She blended into our our household and never made the kids feel as though they were being forced to sit through a photo shoot.  As a result, Liz captured our lifestyle and the personalities of our children perfectly on film. Not only were the pictures innovative, they were a beautiful documentation of a special time in our children's lives."

"Our family has had the wonderful opportunity to work with Liz for multiple sessions and each time I am blown away with her photographs.  I am brought to tears the way she is able to capture each child’s distinct personality.  Liz has a gift of engaging in the moment and providing photos that represent a genuine and memorable moment."

I would love to photograph your family or tribe! Local (Austin) sessions start at $500 and include high-res digital files of your edited images. I'm also available for travel gigs and other projects. Email me for full details. ewmcguire@me.com.

 

Show Your Work: Possessions

I’m trying something new that’s inspired by a writer/artist whose work I admire. Austin Kleon is the author of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, both simple and genius manifestos for the creative life. I keep his books on my desk the same way some people keep their therapists on speed dial. I find his words both inspiring and grounding. In his latest book he advocates showing some of your work in progress, as opposed to fully formed, as a way to boost creativity, move past mental blocks and ultimately get your work Out There. By bringing people along for the ride, you and your audience will both see your work in a new light.

The idea of posting my incomplete thoughts doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me, but I’m giving it a whirl. I’m giving lots of things a whirl lately, because it seems to be that kind of year for me (Did I mention I humbled myself enough to aquajog?? I digress.)

So I’m embracing this idea and will periodically highlight miscellany that's on my mind or projects on my horizon. Incomplete but still interesting. We will see where they take us!

Lately I’ve been thinking about stuff. As in, possessions.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, we recently moved into a small rental so we can remodel our house. The move required  extensive purging and methodical packing. The goal was to pare things down as much as possible, store most of our belongings, and live for 6 months or so with only the basics. Now, I realize that “basics” is a relative term and we all have our threshold for needs and wants and everything in between.

For us, that meant ALL the Legos stayed, because nobody could decide how to divvy them up. Almost all the books were stored, knowing that between the library and the bookstore, stories would keep coming into our lives. Bulky things like the large Kitchenaid mixer were happily stored, and have already given me an excuse to avoid baking things from scratch. We packed half our dishes, every single vase or decorative item, and most everything that was hanging on a wall.

I have long subscribed to the philosophy of only keeping “what you use or what you love” so our home was already pretty lean. Now it’s anorexic. Part of me finds it liberating to live with only the basics, but it’s strange not to be surrounded by at least a few material things I love. Of course, we've got our people and our pet so life is good...our home just feels different right now.

Last week I ran across this video by filmmaker Gemma Green-Hope, who created a short film after her family sorted through her grandmother’s belongings. It’s a lovely tribute. My favorite quote is, “I wanted to show her to myself.”

That video got me thinking about the things my mother left behind when she passed away three years ago after a long illness. She had battled multiple sclerosis for nearly 30 years and had spent the last 10 years of her life supported by a ventilator. The "basics" in her life are relative too. My mom's life was extremely simplified the last few years, but required unfathomable amounts of medicine and complex supplies to keep her comfortable.

A couple months after her death, I helped my father clean out her closet, which in some ways seemed frozen in time from when she was first diagnosed. I wrote about it at the time, but until yesterday I had not re-read that piece in years. Of course it brought back a flood of emotions...just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s amazing how your own words can come back and catch you off guard. I lived and breathed that experience, but still it seems like another me altogether.

During the clean-out, I also photographed some of the little things I uncovered in my mother’s drawers. There were no big surprises...only small moments of nostalgia or grieving. There were a few questions that would never be answered: Why did she save this but not that? Why was this recipe tucked in with her jewelry? There were also some heartbreaking juxtapositions. I had been in her closet hundreds of time and grown numb to all the medical supplies that filled her shelves. But seeing them through the camera lens changed everything. Suddenly I saw not just the life-sustaining tubes, but the neighboring sweaters that she hadn’t worn in 10 years because she hadn’t left her bed, much less her house, in all that time.

By now I’ve sorted through her treasures and kept a few things that mean something to me. When our house is finished, I will unpack them once again and find a new home for them. The photos...I don’t know what I’ll do with them. But I’m sharing a few of them here. Showing you what’s on my mind. Seeing where it takes me.

Thanks for seeing with me.

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Thanks to everyone who entered last week's giveaway. The winner of the Moms Are Nuts book is NaDell. Enjoy!

On the mend

wrongturn Hi, my name is Liz and I haven’t run in 63 days. It’s been approximately 64 days since I’ve felt like myself.

I won’t bore you with the details...the short story is that a nagging foot injury turned ugly and left me first limping along, then strapped into an air-cast, then trying somethingANYTHING to trick my body and mind into thinking I wasn’t falling apart. Or going insane from the inactivity.

I’ve long said that nothing does it for me like running. But I’ve never had to test that declaration in such a brutal way before now. My doctors were very clear and very firm: no running, no yoga, no bare feet, no fun. Find yourself a suitable, no-impact alternative activity, and try to stop glaring at us.

Got it.

First alternative activity:  WALLOWING. I found a cozy spot on the couch and began systematically binge-eating tortilla chips, dark chocolate and red wine. Usually all at the same time. I trained hard at the lounging and put the refrigerator through its paces, but it turns out pity parties require even more stamina than marathons. I could only sing Sinead’s ode to running so many times before even I got sick of myself. Nooooothing Compares 2 U!

Eventually I sucked it up, joined a gym with a pool and dove into my very least-favorite exercise: SWIMMING. My biggest surprise was how pro everyone at the local YMCA looked. Exactly nobody else showed up goggle-less and carrying a Finding Nemo kickboard. Turns out, swimming is nothing like running. Maybe you’ve noticed before, but in the pool you can’t take a breath any old time you want. You need rhythm and timing just to keep yourself from drowning. You also need a PhD in Pool Protocol if you don’t want to look like an idiot splashing around in the wrong lane, incapable of doing a proper flip turn.

Because I’m such a lame swimmer, and because I figured things couldn’t get any more humiliating, I decided to try AQUA JOGGING, which is Running’s dorkiest cousin. If Aqua Jogging rode a bike, it would be a recumbent for sure. In fact, Aqua Jogging is so dorky it would ride a recumbent to Senior Prom. I know, I’ve heard the chorus of praises: “Aqua Jogging! It’s better for your back! No impact! So refreshing!”  It also requires a bright blue floatation belt and feels like you are mall-walking past a chlorinated J.C. Penney’s. That said, I must admit that I grew almost fond of this goofy exercise. Here I was, moving in an upright, runner-ish fashion and if I planned ahead I didn’t even have to get my hair wet. Who’s the dork now??

After 6 weeks in the pool, I got the greenlight to do low-impact activities like the ELLIPTICAL TRAINER. Turns out, the elliptical is very much like running, as long as you suspend everything you know about forward motion. If you overthink the elliptical and try to put “one foot in front of the other” you are doomed to topple off and fall at the feet of your neighboring gym rat. Or so I hear. Once I got comfortable on the elliptical, I couldn’t stop. I was so grateful to be sweating again. (Note: Please don’t remind me of that sentence come August.)

Around this time I also got the ok to go HIKING with my family. Fresh air! Hooray! In some of my happy places with my favorite people! Alas, one final spoiler alert...hiking with kids is also not running. Even my bossiest running friends don’t ask me to carry their snacks or give them piggie backs up the big hills. It’s the little things I miss, really.

So here we are...63 days out and my body is healing. It seems my foot did not sustain any permanent damage. Not sure I can say the same about my sanity.

Pollyanna's uniform

2014.01.optimistSometimes it seems that staying positive is less about being open to possibility and goodness, and more about protecting myself from negativity and bitterness.

Some days I need a coat of steel just to look on the bright side.

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For all you Pollyannas out there who can relate, you might enjoy this oldie but goodie post.

#WhereILivedWednesday: 29th St.

Thank you to my dear friend, Ann Imig, and her monthly link-up for today’s inspiration. You can read more #WhereILivedWednesday stories at Ann’s Rants. 58

Somewhere lost in a box at my Dad’s house, or maybe at this point only burned into my mind, is a photo of my mom taken a few days after she became a mother. She’s standing at their front door in tiny Premont, Texas, holding a swaddled baby--my older brother. She has a gentle smile on her face. Her hair is cut short and it holds her waves perfectly. She wears a simple, lovely dress and maybe even pantyhose and pumps. After all, it was November 1969 and my mom was the kind of woman who wouldn’t show bare legs past Labor Day, even in sunny south Texas.

Beyond that, the details of the photo escape me. But the impression it made on me is unforgettable. Everything about the image said my mother was beginning a brand-new chapter of her life. Unchartered territory, right there on the doorstep.

When I brought home my own first born, I recall being a mess of emotions and exhaustion. My eyes were swollen and achy from 12 hours of squeezing them shut in pain followed by 24 hours of holding them open in awe. Omigod she’s really here, she’s really here. Cannot stop looking at this beautiful thing.

Once we pulled into our driveway, I should have been ready to collapse. Instead, I uncharacteristically set aside vanity and asked my husband to take a photo of me with our new daughter. I wanted to be standing at the front door, cradling my treasure...just like the photo of my mom, but minus the pantyhose.

We lived in that little house for almost four years. It was the first home we owned, the first time we felt like we might actually become grown-ups, even though we painted the outside a bright, playful purple. We spent more hours cultivating that yard and garden than we have spent at all our subsequent homes combined. We hosted outdoor movies in the backyard and dinner parties out of the one-person kitchen. We made sweet friends and great memories on that block.

But the single biggest memory I have of 29th St. is that it was there that I crossed the threshold and became a mother. Today when I look back at photos of our home, I always come back to the front porch. I stare at myself standing there, exhausted and awkward, by the door. And as I have done with so many photos of my own mom, I soak up the details to try to remember who that woman was.

Since then, there have been two more children and a few more front doors. But this one, this was the first, and it opened up a whole new world. A whole new me.

Turkey with a side of fiasco

Here comes another blog hop! This time my chicas and I were inspired by our friend Alexandra from Good Day, Regular People, who recently wrote about the subject of fiascoes. We’ve all got a fiasco story to tell. Here’s mine...

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When I was growing up our family insisted on serving the exact same meal for every major feasting holiday. In fact, the tradition was nearly as important as having enough chairs around the table. Nobody ever expected to sit on the floor and nobody ever expected anything but our menu of beige delights with a sprinkling of green and orange.

The fact that it had been decades since anyone touched the sweet-and-sour green beans did not deter our dedicated tradition police. The beans were a given. As were the mashed potatoes, the spiced peaches, the brown-and-serve rolls, the turkey, and the stuffing that, by God, better come out of a box or the men in the house would come undone.

So we liked our traditions. Some might say we clung to them with an enthusiastic death grip. In retrospect it makes perfect sense to me that we held on so tightly to these rituals because during the same time, most of our basic family dynamics were in constant upheaval.

My mom had been sick most of my life. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was 10 and confined to a wheelchair a year later. Over the course of her 30-year-long disease, she would lose her ability to walk, to use her arms, to feed herself, to leave her bed, and for the last 10 years of her life, to breathe without the support of a ventilator. This summary sounds very tidy and compact when written in one sentence, but those 30 years were messy, uncertain ones and included a long series of unraveling dreams for our family. Many holidays were spent in a hospital, or leaving a hospital, or worrying that we would be in a hospital. Many holidays at home, despite our bravest faces and sunniest outlooks, were heartbreaking and tense simply because when a loved one hurts, everyone else hurts as well.

The traditions seemed to help, though. Or at least they gave us something to banter about during meals.

It was with this familiar baggage that one year, I proposed a new menu item. I was fresh out of college and perhaps feeling worldy because I had recently left Texas and headed west, in search of a not-too-lame job and weekends in the mountains. I ran it by my mom and opted for a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with everyone else.

Let’s mix things up, Mom! OK! How about another vegetable? OK! Let’s go crazy and make it green! OK! Even crazier, let’s not soak it in butter beforehand! Wait, what?

We decided on steamed broccoli served with a side of cheese sauce. I was no master chef, mind you. I was 22 and genuinely believed that the good china would make even Velveeta look classy.

The broccoli, I predicted, would be bright and glorious, and the cheese (cheese product) pure ooey-gooey goodness. Serving a new dish seemed like an optimistic and bold endeavor in the face of our family’s long-standing security blanket. Like perhaps things were almost normal and it was no big deal to try something new because it’s not like the weight of “making every holiday count” was important or anything. Just another family gathering, not a metaphor for all our hopes and dreams, right?

Thanksgiving afternoon, the dining table was set with my parents’ all-white wedding china and linens. My mother sat in her wheelchair at the table with her parents, who visited us once or twice a year on big holidays. My father, two brothers and I ferried food from the kitchen to table like seasoned caterers.

As all the usual suspects found their spots on the table, I went to retrieve our newest dish. I cradled the broccoli bowl and my younger brother, a towering but gentle giant who moves deliberately through the world, ushered in the cheese in its gleaming white gravy boat.

Before a single person could mutter “Broccoli??” I heard china crash to the floor and saw a spray of orange liquid make a spectacularly acrobatic hurl toward the far reaches of the room. The white walls, the white carpet, the white tablecloths...all splattered like the first draft of a Jackson Pollock. My brother stood speechless, his shoes surrounded by a pool of cheese sauce, still holding between his fingers the curved handle of the china gravy boat.

My mother shrieked. My father exploded. My brother stammered something like, “It just...it just broke.” My grandmother helpfully pointed out that “Wow, look how it reached all the way over yonder.”

What followed was a chaotic and noisy mix of blaming, shouting, stomping and heavy sighing. We spent much of the holiday cleaning up the mess, taking turns sponging carpet cleaner into the hundreds of orange spots all over the room. After every scrubbing, we wondered aloud how a gallon of cheese could have fit in a 3-cup container. Months later we would still find flecks of hardened cheese clinging to some distant surface. It would take years before we could laugh about The Cheese Incident and even then it was less of a laugh and more of an uncomfortable, knowing chuckle.

This week, nearly 20 years after that day, is our second Thanksgiving without my mom. The traditions have shifted over time. The food is still very much the same traditional fare. There is sometimes fine china, sometimes a new vegetable, but there is never ever broccoli.

There is, however, always gratitude. I realize how far we’ve come from the family we were then. We’ve added in-laws and kids and gained enough joy to balance out the losses. We know we aren’t immune to future stress or sadness, but the old specter of uncertainty has passed.

This year, I will count my many blessings and be thankful that the cheese can spill and it won’t be a metaphor for anything. It will just be a mess. And we will clean it up without fanfare and move on.

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Read more fiasco stories from my talented friends...

Ann’s Rants The Flying Chalupa Midlife Mixtape Smacksy

And if you can't get enough of us, check out our past blog hops about The Worst Meal I Ever Served & 10 Reasons You Should Be Glad I Didn't Blog in my 20s.

Rhetorical questions (vol. 6)

So I cleaned up my phone this past weekend and downloaded a mere 2,257 photos to my computer. No big deal...the downloading and sorting and nonsense only required a few lifetimes during critical REM sleep time. But besides that, it was fun to scroll through the sheer randomness of so many everyday moments. Some of them have been shared here or on Instagram, but most were simply filed away in my Daily Life folder...the one that is bursting at its digital seams. As I scanned through the pack of images I realized I had not created a Rhetorical Questions post in quite a awhile. We are long overdue, right? Wait, don't answer that!

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Should I hate myself for loving you? Do we give love a bad name?

2013.10.iPhoneToSort-6570

How do you really feel about it?2013.10.iPhoneToSort-6585

Comfy? 2013.10.iPhoneToSort-7123

Do boys ever outgrow this? 2013.10.iPhoneToSort-6890

How can she really be my daughter? 2013.10.iPhoneToSort-6927

When will I shut up about my blender? 2013.10.iPhoneToSort-7869

Seriously, how many times can she re-read this? 2013.10.iPhoneToSort-9065

What's not to love about this phase? 2013.10.iPhoneToSort-7083

How are we going to make it until Halloween? 2013.10.iPhoneToSort-9223

Hello? Hellooo? Can you hear me?? 2013.10.iPhoneToSort-8975

Final question… You want to check out previous volumes of my Rhetorical Questions, don’t you?

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Clearing

2013.08.CB.lowerloopThe last gasp of summer. Wow, the month sure got away from me. Or did I get away from it? A little of both and I think that was for the best. I’m now pushing myself out of summer mode...even though here in Austin we are still applying sunscreen and guzzling water just to make the 4-block walk to our favorite pancake joint. So the last time I wrote, I was mere inches from my breaking point. It seems that the culprit was at his as well, and that all we needed was to escape the heat for a while. So we did just that and as you may have noticed, I left my blog behind to water the plants, pick up the newspapers, etc.

I'm happy to report that the plants and the blog survived. Let the reunion begin!

*     *     * Are you on Instagram? You can fiind me there! @peaceloveguac

Perspective

greenieToday I found this drawing during a marathon cleaning spree in which I sorted through mountains of kid artwork, school papers and various other junk that has been collecting for months. A year if I'm completely honest. And by "sorted" I mean actually removing rather than just moving the mountains. The marathon was made entirely possible by the fact that the kids are spending the week away with their grandparents. I love a good purge and am happy to report that a.) I can now see the entire floor of my office and b.) Nothing was living underneath the piles. A week ago I might have interpreted this little scrap of green paper with a raised eyebrow and a flash of concern. I might have tucked away the lightsabers (out of sight, out of mind) or accidentally broken the stick that has become The Best Shooter Gun ever. These weapons! I can't escape them. Yes, it's a natural phase for boys. And yes, we do our best to keep their play focused on imagination, not violence. But still, enough with all the blasting, shooting, killing and lasering. I cannot take another bit of it.

But that would have been me last week.

This week, I stumbled across the drawing and immediately thought, "Oh my sweet boy! Are you sending me a hug from afar? I miss and love you too!"

Sometimes a little distance is all we need.

Taking stock

May 2013 GratitudeAs a very busy spring ends, I'm taking a breath before the season changes again.Oh, these transitions. They require so much practical planning and emotional adjusting.

Depending on the day, I find myself either madly cramming in every last project on my hefty To Do list, or paralyzed by those jobs that simply won't get done before summer begins.

When I find myself overwhelmed, my first urge is always to freeze time. I'm a time junkie. Just one more second...I swear that's all I need.

So I do. I find my camera and I freeze time. And the results become a visual gratitude journal, complete with friends, family and the wondrous, inspiring place I call home.

When words fail me, my eyes save me. Every single time.

Mealtime

IMG_5086 (1)So, my pals and I are doing another blog hop. Yay! You might remember the last one, where I bravely shared a photo of myself from 1992 wearing, as someone pointed out, "Mom jeans before I was even a Mom." This time we're discussing The worst meal I ever cooked and served to loved ones. I feel sure my funny friends will come up with compelling and hilarious stories, but I gotta be honest with you...this is a tough topic for me. Certainly not because I do or don't cook terrible meals. But because it's Thursday and hello I have hardly any remaining brain capacity to think about mealtime topics. I'm simply maxed out for the week. My weekly allotted Think About Food time was spent on panicked meal planning, high-speed grocery shopping, pre-dinner interrogations, dinnertime whining, and morning cajoling. There's precious little energy remaining to wonder how the meal ranked on my family's Yum Scale.

I am quite confident everyone has stirred around eaten what was on their plates and that what they avoided ate was as healthy as possible. But beyond that, I couldn't possibly tell you how it falls on their radar.

Call me callous or lazy, but this is where things stand right now in our house. We are all about simplicity nowadays. In fact, I adopted a Family Mealtime Mantra just to keep us all on the same page. Thanks to inspiration from Michael Pollan's famous quote I've come up with these words to live by:

"Cook food. Not too much. Mostly edible."

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Read more about worst meals from my talented writer friends...

Ann’s Rants Midlife Mixtape The Flying Chalupa Earth Mother just means I’m dusty