writing

Oh January.

Where do I even begin? I think I'll just share what’s happening in my small slice of the world… Here's what I’m seeing: Solidarity. Pride. Vigilance. Beautiful people. The power of showing up.

Here's what I’m doing: I’m surrounding myself with people who care about what’s happening, who are taking thoughtful actions, and who can broaden my experience and perspective.

Here's what I’m learning: One of the most important questions I can ask myself right now is “Why now?” Why was the Women's March on Austin my 14-year-old daughter's first march and mine too? Sure, I’ve been an informed voter and an appalled citizen before this year, but why am I getting off the sofa now? And second...Why was every march last week--across the entire globe--deemed peaceful? I'm grateful they were safe, but we have to ask why so many police officers wore pink hats and not riot gear like they often bring to other marches. I don't have easy answers. But I am thinking about all this, and I know reflection is critical for me and many others if we want to move forward with a broader understanding and an increased ability to advocate. Now that I know the power of showing up, I need to show up for more.

Here's what I can’t stop thinking about: Stop Asking What the Women's March is "About." "I march because I just don’t want to stay healthy, I want all women in this country to stay healthy. Especially those who, due to economic disadvantage and poor access to healthcare, are more susceptible to not being healthy. I march because a “pussy” isn’t a grabbable object... It is not something that in one breath you can desire and in the next take away safe, affordable care from. It’s a part of the human body that requires medical attention like any other part of you. It’s why you’re here, and it deserves more respect than ignorant, controlling, punishing regulation."

To Obama With Love, and Hate, and Desperation.  "He volunteered stories of other letters: a woman in Minnesota writing about her monthly expenses, a dad writing to say that his son had befriended an illegal immigrant and that the experience had flipped his own bigotry on its head. He talked about a guy who wrote recently to say how joyful he was that the Obama administration was about to end."

If you’re like me and struggling to find light these days, I can share that so far the only antidote to my fear and outrage has been action. And I mean more than just sharing articles on Facebook. I am new to this, but here are some organizations that are helping me speak up and show up in effective ways.

Indivisible Austin. Inspired by Indivisible: A Practical Guide For Resisting the Trump Agenda they are uniting Austin’s six congressional districts to defeat Donald Trump’s policies.

Women's March: the next steps. 10 actions for the first 100 days.

Daily Action. Resisting extremism, one phone call at a time.

And if all else fails, spread the love and buy an early Valentine's Day gift. May I suggest a gift/donation to one of these organizations? Fewer calories than chocolate or champagne…

Planned Parenthood Human Rights Campaign Sierra Club ACLU

That's all I got. If you have sunshine to share, I would love to hear it!

See you out there!

👊🏼Liz

 

One week

Well THAT was a really long 7 days. Painfully long. Painful in a million ways that I never could have predicted. Not because I am in the business of predicting presidential elections but because I couldn’t have guessed how personal the loss would feel.

On Wednesday morning I woke after a few hours of sleep and spent the day grieving and raging and texting WTF WTF WTF over and over again. I huddled up with my tightest group of friends and we shared our anger and fears—for the basic respect and fundamental rights of dear friends and distant strangers. We watched as pundits and peers gleefully mocked that fear and called us fucking crybabies. “Get over it. Move on! Fair is fair is fair.”

On Friday morning, after yet another sleepless night, I stood at the elementary school Veterans Day celebration and barely held back tears. The flag raising, the singing, the honorable guests, the hundreds of kids taking so much pride in their young voices. I wish it had felt therapeutic and hopeful, but I was awash in despair. One nation indivisible…yeah right. Our principal asked everyone to join in singing This Land is Your Land, and I found secret pleasure in knowing we were sharing beautiful words originally written as a protest anthem. “As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking / Is this land made for you and me?”

On Sunday as the news rolled in of the incoming cabinet appointments I couldn’t bear to even make eye contact with people who weren’t openly horrified by the hourly developments. I tried the phone--I can do the phone! I tried to talk about benign things like Thanksgiving menus and travel schedules, but I found myself melting down in front of my teenager and needing her support for a change. “I cannot put on a fucking happy face. I cannot fake this, for anyone!”

On Monday I remembered something that my 12-year old said late last week. The whole family had been talking about the election, and my husband and I were trying to balance our outrage with reassuring, parental perspective. My son thought for a moment and said, “Maybe this is like a vaccine. Maybe the country needs a dose of this specific kind of evil to build up really powerful antibodies.”  My God. Maybe so.

And now here is Tuesday. Today I woke up, not necessarily rested, but renewed in a surprising and palpable way. The fog has lifted enough that I called my senators. I made donations. I mapped out a plan for ways our family can not only make a bigger impact on our community but gain new insight and stretch our comfort zone. It’s been a long week, but I know the road ahead is even longer. Today, finally, I’m feeling focused and relentless. It’s time to work.

 

Gifts

 

2015.12.24

 

This is Judith and her beautiful friend Prima.

For years Judith and I have crossed paths during Saturday runs along the Barton Creek Greenbelt. We wave, exchange a few friendly words, and sometimes stop to pet her aging greyhounds, who always trail behind as she darts swiftly over roots and rocks.

Judith is perpetually bright and smiling. She applauds my running group for making time for friendship and fitness, and we beam at her praise. Everything about Judith radiates joy and light. In the summer she wears tiny bun-hugger shorts that are smaller than anything my fit, 40-something-year-old friends and I sport in public. She rocks these shorts. My friends and I all agree on two things: Every run where we see Judith is a good run, and we all want to be her when we grow up.

I shot this photo on the morning of Christmas Eve when I was running with two friends. We had not seen Judith in a while and immediately noticed that she had only one dog with her. We stopped to talk and she shared the story of her other dog’s final days and the beautiful, loving send-off she gave him. The conversation shifted toward the heaviness of grief and how every new pain can revive buried ones from the past. She was philosophical and open, and clearly at peace even amidst the heartache. We stood there under a canopy of oak and juniper, soaking up this beautiful human as she poured out her heart to three women she has only known at a distance.

It was a powerful, intimate moment that lasted maybe 10 minutes.

After gathering ourselves and wiping our eyes, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t shake what I was feeling, though. Judith had stirred something in me on this sacred day. I wanted to bottle it somehow, and I immediately regretted not asking to take her photo.

We ran on for several minutes until I convinced my friends to turn around early and try to track down Judith. At a minimum, I needed to tell her something. If I were lucky, she would let me take her photo as well.

We caught up with her eventually, and if she was surprised to see us she didn’t show it. Swallowing a lump of emotion, I told her that today, along with being Christmas Eve, was also my Mom’s birthday. “In honor of her memory, I always look for beautiful moments on my Mom’s day. And you are that moment, Judith.”

We hugged. I tried not to cry. It was both awkward and completely natural. It felt like everything vulnerability should be: uncomfortable but affirming. It was the perfect start to a day in which I always reserve time for contemplation and memories.

For as long as I can remember I have sought out the Judiths in my life. I learned this from my mother. In fact, everything I know about seeking beauty and joy came from my mom. These were her greatest gifts to me.

When my mom was 38 years old, she was diagnosed with a chronic, progressive form of multiple sclerosis. A year later she was confined to a wheelchair. Her future held decades of emergency room scares, ICU visits, near-misses, and too many physical losses to catalog. She spent the last 10 years of her life in bed, relying on a ventilator for every breath.

And yet. Even with her limitations and losses, my mom radiated serenity. She found pleasure in every bird that visited the feeders hanging outside her window, or in the backyard wind chimes singing with the breeze. She exhausted libraries of their audiobook collection. Long after she lost her ability to speak, she could tell you with her eyes that she loved you.

Throughout her life, doctors, nurses and therapists marveled at my mom’s attitude. Over and over we heard, “There is just something so resilient and positive about her.” She saw beauty in most everything. I have no doubt she would have seen it in Judith.

It’s been 5 years since my mom died, and the sharp edges of grief have softened. I think I’m finally accepting that even if I can’t walk with her in my daily life, I can carry the lessons she left me. I can seek out beauty and joy and light. I can embrace--and if necessary, chase down--the Judiths in my life and tell them how they make my world brighter. What a gift indeed.

 

 

 

Optimism in Overdrive

taokhEIp

Parenting requires a huge dose of optimism. Who else but the glass-half-full crowd would dare bring children into a world fraught with injustices, Kardashians and high-fructose syrup? It can be an uphill battle to keep focused on the bright side.

I have a naturally Pollyanna personality, but I still need frequent reminders to help stay the course. I seek them out in stories, images, blips of conversation. I’m a heat-seeking missile when it comes to examples of the power of positive thinking.

Last week a reminder came from an icon in the world of optimism. I had the great pleasure to meet Bert Jacobs, co-founder and Chief Executive Optimist of the Life is Good Company. Jacobs was in Austin to wow a crowd of 7,000 at the Texas Conference for Women. His speech was everything you’d hope it would be: energizing, inspiring, tear-jerking and funny.

Afterwards I had the opportunity for a quick interview with him, and I went straight to the topic closest to my heart: family life.

Me: Cynicism seems a little too cool in our culture right now. How do we raise children to be optimists? Bert Jacobs: Tell your kids to look through history and find us the great pessimists. Find us the great cynics. You’ll be done with your assignment in 10 minutes. Then go through and find the great optimists, and you can do it for the next 3 years. Every hero you’ve ever had was an optimist, because they see things before they happen. In order to be optimistic, you have to be open-minded and ambitious.

My work is focused on the “small moments that tell the big stories of family life.” What’s one small moment in your life that tells your big story? I would say my mom at the dinner table saying, “Tell me something good that happened today.” That could look on a given day like a very small thing, but it changed our lives. It changed the trajectory of our whole path. It led us to greater business. It led us to a great kids foundation. And look how lucky we are, doing all the things we are doing. All from one thing that Mom said at the dinner table. The interesting thing is...and it’s not even in the book...is that she had huge challenges in her 20s. My mom was put in a mental institute and was told that she would never amount to anything or have a family. So I think her heightened appreciation for life, and never taking a day for granted, and teaching us “Tell me something good” came from a place where she was really challenged.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? A stuntman. I was a typical boy.

I went home and told the kids about my day, and we had a lively discussion about great people in history, about how we can all inject more optimism into our lives, and how (high five!) we are already doing the dinnertime sharing ritual, although ours comes in the form of “What are you thankful for?”

The interview and the conversations that followed with my family were both such lovely gifts. I enjoy any opportunity to talk with the kids about my inspirations as a parent and our goals as a family. The entire day was a great reminder that one small conversation can make an impression well beyond the people who initially shared it.

Knowing the power of that ripple effect, I have to admit one thing, my friends: I kept the stuntman detail to myself. The kids don’t need to know everything. I’m optimistic, not crazy.

The evolution of keeping secrets

IMG_2459

Have you noticed that as kids grow, it gets trickier to have a private conversation with your spouse? Even if it’s not a particularly adult topic, you never know what kids are going to retain and repeat. And who wants to be responsible for spoiling a surprise party because your 6-year-old overheard you ordering the cake?

It’s not much easier as they get older. Somehow my children are deaf to repeated requests to Get off the computer NOW and set the table, yet the moment I try to dish about the latest nonsense on the neighborhood listserv, the kids are all ears. I also find myself censoring many topics that I simply don’t want to explain. I know, for example, that the second they hear me gushing about an Amy Schumer video they will head straight to their pal Google. And as funny as Amy is, I really don’t want to be the parent who introduces the 5th grade class to “The Last Fuckable Day.”

Over the years, our coping strategies have evolved from adorable language play to ever-changing passwords and hazy, unfinished discussions. They are imperfect strategies at best and (surprise) the kids are adapting faster than we are. Who knows what’s next...I’m just hoping my husband and I don’t have to take an Espionage 101 class or get on Snapchat just to exchange crude jokes.

Age 1: Spelling. “It’s time to start her B-A-T-H...”

Age 2: Blundered sign language. “I’m spelling shot, not shop! We’re going to the pediatrician for crying out loud.”

Age 3: Pig Latin. “Oh I can’t stand that busybody neighbor! She is such an itchbay.”

Age 4: Vaguespeak. “I heard you-know-who is looking for another job doing you-know-what in you-know-where.”

Age 5: Using big, semi-foreign words. “Remember that overseas spousal rendezvous, sans chicos, we talked about? Call su madre and let’s make that happen.”

Age 6: Kitchen whispering. “Shh...They are being so sweet. Don’t breathe or they will start fighting again.”

Age 7: Facial gestures.  “No...(eyebrow raise) that was Santa who bought that gift for him, not us.”

Age 8: Advanced facial gestures. “...” (slightly wrinkled forehead, imperceptible shake of the head.)

Age 9: Emails. “We need to talk about gift ideas. Log on to Amazon and check my cart. Then destroy all evidence of this email!”

Age 10: Texts. “You wouldn’t believe the ducking day I’ve had!” ... “Ugh, autocorrect!”

Age 11: Texts with auto preview disabled. “Oh, another group text arrived? Why am I laughing already? Call it a hunch.”

Age 12: Babysitters. “We just paid $60 to walk three blocks to a restaurant and discuss parent-teacher conferences.”

Age 13: Pillow talk. “Hey, wake up. I’m not done talking about...oh wait, never mind. I can’t even remember now.”

*     *     *

How do you sneak in adult-friendly conversations at your house? Any tricks to share?

Business expenses

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 2.29.58 PM

So, I’ve been a freelance writer for 18 years, which means the last time I wore “office clothes” was back in the Ally McBeal years.

I’ve grown quite happy with my home-office uniform of t-shirt, jeans and flip flops. When I have a meeting, I throw on a nice shirt and boots, then I actually blow-dry my hair. You know, I get fancy.

Last year I took a contract job that involves spending time with wonderful people who, get this, often wear suits and heels. And unlike the hipster guys who frequent local coffee shops, they wear their suits without irony.

At first I was a little worried my wardrobe could not compete with this new professional scene, yet I didn't run out to the mall right away. If there’s one thing I resent it’s having to buy clothes that can’t be multi-purposed into everyday attire or a date night outfit. With a few tweaks and a couple simple purchases, I made it work out...and so far I have not been kicked out of the grown-up club.

I might be stingy when it comes to buying professional clothes, but there are other business expenses that I never mind investing in. Like conferences. I love conferences! I try to attend at least two every year, and even then I wish I could fit more into my budget and schedule.

Because here’s the thing: these events are always worth the investment. Although I’m not the kind of person who uses acronyms like R.O.I, I get a total boost every time I attend a great conference.

The best conferences inspire and educate me. They surround me with smart, talented people. They reunite me with friends who are like my virtual co-workers. They encourage me to meet new people and practice putting myself and my work out into the world. Great conferences energize me in a non-quantifiable way that always leaves me ready to take the next step in my career. They are worth every penny and every hour.

Do you agree? Or want to test my theory? Join me at the Texas Conference for Women on October 15th! I’m giving away one free ticket and I would love for you to sit with me at the bloggers’ table.

The conference line-up is incredible: a full day of workshops and speakers, including my Boyhood crush and Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette; Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts; and Candy Chang, TED speaker and creator of the “BEFORE I DIE...” street art movement. Wow!

If you want to win a ticket and join me at the conference, share this post on Facebook and tag my FB page (Elizabeth McGuire, writer/photographer) or tweet the link and tag me @ewmcguire. I will choose a random winner on Thursday, September 17th at midnight.

If you don’t win a ticket, don’t worry...I have a super secret password that will get you $10 off the ticket price. You can purchase tickets here and use the password TXBG15.

Oh, and guess what? You absolutely don’t have to invest in a suit to join us. Pretty sure I will be wearing my dressy jeans and professional boots. I hope to see you there!

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 2.34.04 PM

Note: My dog likes the way I dress because I'm almost always properly attired to take him for a walk.

What a week

untitled-1

Ten days ago I was in New York City with my 12-year-old daughter and my mother-in-law for a wonderfully busy girls weekend. On a bright morning we stood at the feet of Lady Liberty, learning the history of the statue and the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus.” We’ve all heard her words: “Give me your tired, your poor....” What I had not heard before was that the poem was written before the great immigration rush and that the statue was not necessarily designed to be the beacon of hope it later became. Yet Lazarus’ words were prescient and came to signify everything hopeful about our country. Her words became as important as the statue itself.

So grateful for the power of words.

untitled-2

Later that day we walked to the grounds of the World Trade Center. The sight of the first pool took my breath away. It looks bottomless and the list of names surrounding it endless. I wanted to read each and every one, to bear witness to the lives lost. And this was just the outside memorial. Inside the museum, thousands of artifacts, newsreels and tributes captured the horror, confusion and heartache of that time. And just as stirring were the features that captured the collective grief, the incredible sacrifice and the outpouring of support in the aftermath.

We spent hours at the museum, immersed in the stories. I watched my daughter as she read each plaque with great reverence. Days later, when asked what she remembered most about the exhibits, she knew the Virgil quote by heart: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

So grateful for the power of stories and memory.

untitled-1-2

And then there was Charleston. I found myself once again talking to my kids about hate and prejudice and trying to explain something so horrible. We talked about the Confederate flag and its unfortunate role in history.

I reminded the kids that Dad and I both went to a Texas high school named after Robert E. Lee. It was the late '80s and our mascot was the Rebels; our school song Dixie and our school flag the Confederate one. The flag appeared on the cover of our yearbooks, it waved in multitudes above our football stadium, it adorned varsity jackets and drill team uniforms. Every Friday in the fall it was shoe-polished on the back windows of hundreds of cars and trucks in support of the Mighty Rebel Football Team.

I am ashamed to say that I rolled with it, or at least didn’t speak up against it. In my 16-year-old mind it was a weird, mildly offensive “West Texas Thing.” A “Football Thing.” It wasn’t until I was finishing my freshman year in college in the spring of 1991 that the flag was officially removed from all high school sanctioned activities and paraphernalia. And suddenly it was such a no-brainer: our community had been painfully insensitive. How had we not spoken up sooner? Clearly the removal was long overdue.

To share that story with my kids was one thing, but to then explain that the flag still flies over the South Carolina capitol nearly 25 years later was a whole other sad reality. My daughter shook her head in disbelief. “Mom, that’s so messed up. The only place those flags belong are in a museum.”

So grateful for the power of common sense.

untitled-3

And now, here we are...a few days after the Supreme Court has declared that marriage is marriage no matter who you are. The kids and I cheered at the news and they named off a few grownup friends who can now be married in our home state.

In almost no time, Texas politicians lined up to argue the blasphemous nature of the new law, and I found myself explaining yet again that hateful, narrow-minded views are unfortunately still alive even amidst such hopeful ones.

And once again, my daughter found the right words so easily...“Don’t people understand that when you give someone equal freedom it doesn’t take away your own?”

May we move forward with this mindset. May we allow words, stories, memories, and commonsense to be our brave and constant guides.

texasequality

Run with joy

 

2015.02.OwenRun-1 For months my 10 year-old son and I had been battling too much. Nothing dramatic, just a steady, exhausting cycle of nagging/ignoring, cajoling/sighing, yelling/yelling, then crying/crying. There were all the predictable triggers: homework, chores, screen time. Every day I practiced complaining about dirty shoes on the sofa and Minecraft on the computer, and he practiced scowling and stomping. We both got really good at being disgusted with one another.

The small stand-offs became almost daily routines and I soon realized that no matter the outcome of each argument I felt like I was losing every single time. First I was furious, then heartbroken.

Things were not always this difficult between us. In fact, from the very beginning our relationship was a breeze. I grew up with only brothers so I like to think I understand boy energy and humor. Personality-wise, my son and I have much in common. We are happiest outside, no matter the weather. Every day we require ample time to move and sweat and DO, balanced with ample time to just sit and dream. We are really good at leaping before looking, then getting frustrated at our impulsiveness and backpedaling into a plan. We are both playaholics more than workaholics.

But none of these similarities were helping us much, and I missed the easy connection we had always shared.

So one night, after a particularly ugly argument over homework, I approached him in his room. “I would really like to find something fun for us to do regularly--just you and me.” My voice caught and tears brimmed. He replied, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’m not going to college yet.”

I laughed--at both his wisdom and naiveté. I was not worried about college. I was worried only about that particular day, and the next day, and maybe the next, but no further. I was worried about the current heaviness between us. I was not looking for a cure-all for the battles or some lofty psychological insight into why mothers and sons fight at this stage. I was simply looking for a way to inject more easy, light moments into our days.

He suggested we run. We had run together before and casually finished some 5K races, but we had never made it a regular habit. He had never before shown interest in consistent training and I was, to be honest, a little protective of my own running schedule.

Running had been my sanctuary for almost two decades and I was accustomed to escaping family life five times a week to meet a steady group of friends and training partners. I wasn’t sure how I would add another layer to this carefully orchestrated routine, but I knew it was worth trying.

So the next Saturday morning, I met my friends at our usual predawn hour. I finished our 7-mile loop and while the rest of them kept going, I ran home to meet my boy. He was still in his pajamas, on the computer, and had not seen my reminder note. It was 29 degrees, there was hot coffee in the kitchen, and I was starting to chill in my sweaty clothes. I nearly ditched the whole idea. But as soon as I asked, “Hey bud, still want to run a few with me?” he jumped up with a cheerful Yes!

The next 30 minutes were pure joy. Following his lead, we launched into “adventure running”...half running, half exploring our neighborhood and nearby trail. My boy zigzagged along the sidewalks, tightrope-walked every curb he found, jumped over rock walls and benches, and paused when he saw an interesting tree or funny graffiti. For every mile I ran, he seemed to run a quarter more with his diversions.

He chattered about ideas for his latest cartoon series, and asked me lots of ridiculous What If questions. Even though we’ve passionately covered the topic before, we spent at least a mile discussing why Super Speed is obviously the best superpower ever. Even better than flying and invisibility, we agreed.

Along the way we vowed to register for an upcoming race where volunteers enthusiastically douse runners with colored powdered until they look like toxic circus clowns. After last year’s race, we were blowing blue gunk out of our noses for days, so we decided this year to wear bandanas for protection. “We will be the Booger Bandana Brigade, Mom! We will have a booger mascot! I can make us a booger logo and everything!”

And it was in the middle of this boogery monologue that I had the distinct and intoxicating feeling that this moment was exactly what we needed. There was lightness and laughter between us again. Welcome to your new Saturday morning routine, I thought. I am totally in.

A month later, our regular runs have not solved everything, of course, but the constant heaviness is gone. Knowing that once a week I am guaranteed time with him that is void of arguing and frustration somehow gives me more patience and empathy on the other days.

We have found a simple space that contains only joy and ease, and nothing could keep me from showing up there. I could run for miles in it.

 

*     *     *

Like this? Share it with a friend! Don't want to miss a thing? Subscribe to my feed! xoxo, Liz

What my dog is wondering right now...

IMG_5567  

What time does the school bus come? Do I smell a snack? What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding? Is it nature or nurture? How long til Liz makes me get off this yummy rug and on to my bed? Why does everyone in the house have a regular bed except me? What does “weight-management” dog food mean? I bet Isis from Downton has a sweet deal. And a king-sized bed. How did Katy Perry changed clothes so quickly during the Super Bowl show? What the hell, Sarah Koenig? Does anybody really know what time it is? How long until dinner? Plant, animal or mineral? Remind me again why Pluto can’t be a planet? How does gravity work? Why is it OK to chew on that rectangular thing but not this one? If everything evolved from amoebas, how do we still have amoebas? Squirrel? Squirrel?? Is it mind over matter or matter over mind? Why does Liz think I need music on when she leaves the house? I'm a dog. And the mailman is coming in 3, 2, 1.... I hope I peed on enough spots this morning. I totally could have caught that chicken if I hadn't been on the leash. Why the hell are there chickens living in the middle of our city? If a cat meows in the neighborhood and nobody hears it, did it really make a noise? What's the frequency, Kenneth?

 

Replacing the irreplaceable

2014.heartrock

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.

*     *     *

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

Throwback Thursday: 5 years

Phew...I'm back! Life got crazy for a variety of reasons, and my blog got the short end of the deal, but I'm happy to be here now! Today, in honor of Throwback Thursday AND my 5-year blogiversary, I'm looking through my old posts with fresh eyes. I'm discovering and rediscovering all kinds of treasures...

I'm finding that of course some things change and others stay the exact same. Siblinghood continues to be equal parts harmony, chaos, discord and joy. That's why we call it Sibling Revelry, right?

http://peaceloveandguacamole.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/img_1668.jpg

IMG_4697

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.30.49 PM

I'm finding excellent and timely reminders about parenting and forgotten photos that need no caption.

I'm finding that I hardly recognize the faces in my early blog days.

And I'm finding that some things really never get old. No wonder these are my kids' favorite three posts: Next lesson: What is lame? See also: "Totally bogus" I mean, seriously

I'm finding that I STILL get traffic on this post and frequent requests for the bumper stickers. (I've still got them if you want. Long live Tami Taylor!)

But mostly I'm finding that I'm grateful to have this blog and people who cheer it on. I've always been happiest at the place where stories, family and art intersect. Thanks for sharing that space with me!

*     *     *

 

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?

*     *     *

2014.08.25.1stDay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boys Allowed

2014.BoysBooksPromo2 After last week's piece about my daughter's book club, I received numerous "What about the boys??" questions. Good questions with simple answers...

My 5-year-old is too young for a book club. When he thinks of reading it is all about snuggling and hearing a great story. This summer he has been devouring the Magic Treehouse series. Which means Hubs and I are "devouring" these stories right along with him. For the third time. (Will Jack and Annie make it back to the treehouse in time?? Let's find out! Really great stories, but yeah...third time, my friends.)

My 10-year-old son, a definite bookworm, is simply not interested in a book club. In fact, sitting down with a dozen buddies and talking about books just might fall into the Worst Idea Ever category. Even though he loves books and buddies. Just not his thing.

However...the great mother-child conversations that have grown out of my daughter's book club are pretty special, so of course I want to experience something like that with my boys. The connection is still the goal, but my approach is very different. Like so many things boy-related, my approach is deceptively casual and super stealthy.

We started by reading to him for years, even past the time he could handle a hefty book. Our favorites were always the books like Harry Potter and Peter and the Starcatchers, which combine adventure, suspense and (this is key!) humor.

I now try to keep up with what he's reading so I have at least a working knowledge of what he's enjoying. We go to the library regularly. We spend a small fortune at our favorite bookstore. We he finishes a book and stares at his bookshelf like an open fridge proclaiming he has NOTHING TO READ, I do some research and find a list of books to try. (As I mentioned in the other post: great resources include librarians, bookstores, online reading groups. Google is your BFF here.)

When he does find that cool/awesome/epic book, I ask questions. But only (and this is key too) only when we are doing something else like riding bikes or walking the dog, or shooting hoops in the driveway. If he's doing something else, it doesn't feel like homework...it feels like a casual conversation. And before we know it, he is relaying the cryptic plot of his latest Sci-Fi novel. Sometimes I have no idea what he's talking about. But he's talking! And he's so excited! And if I get lucky, I eventually catch on to a few basic details so I can ask relevant questions.

Sometimes I know the book well, and the conversation turns to wonderfully familiar ground. We fall back on inside jokes. He quizzes me on what kind of demigod I would be and why. He asks me for the thousandth time to name my favorite Harry Potter character. We agree that no matter your favorite character, we all pretty much want to be part of the Weasley clan.

And without even knowing it, without trying too too hard...we've suddenly had a really great, genuine mother-son moment. Very stealthy. Mrs. Weasley would be proud.

*     *     *

Just as I did with my daughter's book club post, I've included some book ideas for boys. Some of the titles overlap, which is no surprise. Of course there's no such thing as Boy Books and Girl Books...but the following titles have been particularly popular with my son during his early elementary years.

1st/2nd Grade Dragonslayer’s Academy by Kate McMullan Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce Magic Tree House (series) by Mary Pope Osborne Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol Geronimo Stilton (series) by Geronimo Stilton Origami Yoda (series) by Tom Angleberger The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling Amulet (series) by Kazu Kibuishi Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick Guardians of Ga’hoole (series) by Kathryn Lasky Anything by Road Dahl

3rd/4th Grade The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis Holes by Louis Sachar The Mysterious Benedict Society (series) by Trenton Lee Stewart Savvy by Ingrid Law Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (honestly, just go ahead and buy the boxed set because they will read them over and over again for years.) The Wonderful O by James Thurber Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise Peter and the Starcatchers (series) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson Platypus Police Squad by Jarrett J. Krosoczka Wonder by R.J. Palacio Love from your friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Wildwood by Colin Meloy A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) by Lemony Snicket Hoot by Carl Hiaasen Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper Anything by Rick Riordan

Must-Have Reference Books for Boys Defending Your Castle by William Gurstelle Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden The Boys’ Book: How to Be the Best at Everything by Dominique Enright Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun by Elizabeth Foy Larsen, Joshua Glenn, Heather Kasunick and Mister Reusch

The Club pt. 2

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 9.35.16 AM A few months ago I wrote about the book club I share with my 11-year-old daughter and the countless gifts it has given back to both of us. The club keeps my daughter connected to friends who share her passion for stories, and it keeps me connected to my child and a wonderful group of tweens.

Since the essay ran, I was thrilled to see The Huffington Post pick up the story and even more flattered to receive emails from readers looking for suggestions on starting a club of their own. I’m happy to share what we have learned! Just as with any endeavor, there are a million ways to organize it, but the following path has worked for our club.

STARTING OUT Enlist a few leaders. We have three Book Moms who are the primary organizers. We rotate houses each month and share responsibilities for reading the books, planning discussion questions and bringing snacks. We also pick the books (more to come on that). Even though we welcome any of the moms to join us at meetings, typically it’s just the three of us. I’ve heard of other book clubs that are true mother-daughter activities (with every mom and daughter attending together), but our goal from the beginning was to focus on the girls and their relationships. As a result, it’s the girls’ book club, but we three leaders happen to reap some pretty great mother-daughter rewards with our own girls. We also decided that a full mother-daughter club would change the vibe significantly. It would be easy for the meeting to turn into a social hour with so many adult friends. We also know that some of our girls specifically request that their moms do not crash book club. It's their club, thankyouverymuch.

As for the club size, we try to keep the group no larger than about 12 girls. Any more and it gets unwieldy.

Our group began when the girls were in 2nd grade. I love that we started so early because it gave them a common thread of friends throughout their years at our large elementary school. At this age, you typically have a wide variety of readers (reading levels, stamina, attention span.) To address that, we picked two books a month: one easy and one challenge book. Everyone read at least one book; some read both. By 4th grade, we cut back to reading only one (longer) book each month.

Every August we set up the schedule and then meet monthly from September to May, usually making the December and May meetings half meeting and half party.

PICKING BOOKS The first year we asked the girls to vote each month on a new book, but we quickly found it hard for families to plan on such short notice. Now the three Book Moms decide the list for the entire year so families have time to borrow/buy the books and the girls have time to finish them.

We get our books ideas from all over: We take suggestions from the girls, poll our favorite librarians and booksellers, look at the Texas Bluebonnet Award list (an annual list of recommended books for Texas grade schoolers), scroll through Amazon and see what comes up as “related books,” browse sites like Goodreads, and visit Facebook groups devoted to reading recommendations.

We are fortunate that the moms in our club are wonderful and trusting of our book decisions. It helps that we are all friends, so there is a certain ease when talking about which books are appropriate for the club. So far this hasn’t been an issue, but as our girls enter middle school we know that the books will only get more mature and complex. For now, we have kept the controversial books out of the mix. (For example, we didn’t read The Hunger Games or the Divergent series for the club, although many of the girls read them on their own. Now some girls are stretching into true YA territory with books like The Fault in Our Stars, and we need to adapt our approach accordingly.)

STRUCTURING MEETINGS Usually all the Book Moms read the book, but the host is the one who also prepares the discussion questions. The discussion questions don’t need to be highbrow, academic efforts. In general, you can’t go wrong with: What did you like/dislike, what did you learn, what did you relate to? And this site is a great place to start for questions that fit almost any novel.

I also love to ask questions that tie back to the author. Questions that help the girls think like writers. What questions do you have for the author? Why did the author write it this way? What did the writer have to research before writing this book?

As a mother, you may need to learn to bite your tongue during some of the discussions. Of course the girls get off track, sometimes have lame answers, or maybe don’t get excited about a book. Follow their lead...Some books encourage lively conversation and some are a total bust. Don’t be afraid to say, “Wow, nobody LOVED this book. Why is that? How does it compare to others you loved? What would you have done differently if you were the author?

Our goal is to keep the vibe upbeat and casual, but still focused. This translates into a 90-minute meeting on a Sunday afternoon, with 30 minutes of book discussion and an hour of snack and backyard play.

We don’t keep a log or notes during the meetings, but at the end of the year we take a poll to ask which books they liked best and why.

At the close of every meeting we leave time for the girls to recommend any other books they are reading. This has turned into a favorite part of the meeting because the girls, avid readers every one of them, share books they adore. They gush. They try to summarize without spoiling. They draw comparisons to other books and try to wow the other girls with their descriptions. Basically they have time to geek out about something they really love. Can you ask for anything better in a club?

*     *     *

If your daughter is in a book club now, or you start one with her, I would love to hear from you! What works for y'all? What books have you loved? Share any and all of it here!

P.S. Since writing this post, I added a boy-specific list here. Enjoy!

BOOK SUGGESTIONS As an inspiration or jumping off point, I've included our club's reading list from the past four years. Happy reading!

2nd Grade At this age, the girls read two books a month (one easy, one challenge book). Sometimes the parents read the challenge books to the girls.

Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett Fudge-a-Mania by Judy Bloom Judy Moody (series) Megan McDonald The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo Happy New Year's Mallory by Laurie B. Friedman The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney Matilda by Roald Dahl Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye Black Beauty by Anna Sewell Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder Charlotte's Web by E.B. White A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis Ramona (series) by Beverly Cleary The Magic Treehouse (series) by Mary Pope Osborne

3rd Grade Again, we paired shorter books with longer books. Several of these books were on their school Bluebonnet list so they wanted to read them to earn the award.

The View from Saturday by E.L. Koningsburg Christopher Mouse by William Wise 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass Wild Times at the Bed and Biscuit by Joan Carris Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt Smarter Than Squirrels (Down Girl and Sit) by Lucy Nolan and Mike Reed The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Curtis The Book Store Mouse by Peggy Christian Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park Squirrels World by Lisa Moser Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer Love From Your Friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky The Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

4th Grade Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume

5th Grade The Rising Star of Rusty Nail by Lesley M.M. Blume Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass Wildwood by Colin Meloy Red Thread Sisters by Carol Peacock Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes by Katherine Rue The Egypt Game by Zilpha Snyder The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Other 4th/5th Grade suggestions from the girls (so many good books, so little time) Chains (Seeds of America) by Laurie Anderson Holes by Louis Sachar The Velvet Room by Zilpha Snyder Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Peterson Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise Cold Cereal by Adam Rex Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf The Changeling by Jenkins and Fabry Number the Stars by Lois Lowry Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary The Grace Mysteries by Lady Grace Cavendish Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm

Rubble

2014.rubble This week I'm reaching for my own words and coming up empty-handed.

Five days ago a friend's life was devastated in a split second and the only words I can muster are..."no words."

So I've been relying on this beautiful piece of wisdom I found. I bet I've read it dozens of times over the last few days...

"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could." --Louise Erdich, The Painted Drum

The night my 11-year-old heard the news, she curled up beside me and cried for her heartbroken friend. Trying to wrap her head around such a senseless tragedy, she said, "You always think it happens to someone else, but we are all 'someone else' to somebody."

Of course she's right. And once again, I had no words.

And then today I stumbled on this photo I took a while back. It was shot in a quick moment that caught my attention but was quickly forgotten. The image doesn't entirely fill in the words that I'm lacking, but it does remind me of the incredible, countless people helping our friend through this nightmare. It reminds me that maybe I have a few words after all:  Even in the midst of tremendous loss and heartache, there is still love to be found among the rubble.

 

 

 

 

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.

IMG_6278

IMG_6288

IMG_6282

IMG_6273

IMG_2825

 

 

*     *     *

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