Peanut Butter & Doing Good

It’s been a busy week for our family, and we’re headed out the door in a few minutes for Bean to hopefully give away some more peanut butter. I’ll return and report in a bit, but for now, if you’d like to read about what’s going on, you can check:

The Washington Post
The New York Post
People Magazine
The Deseret News
The Today Show

I’ve actually got THREE pages of links to articles, from as far away as New Zealand. It’s INSANE and wonderful, in the middle of some really heavy times, people can be so good, and we are all craving some spots of light.


Hot Water

screen shot 2019-01-15 at 11.16.36 pmTonight I was cold—too cold for my socks or my space heater to fill. I turn the steamy shower on, and by the nightlight, I take my contacts out. My husbands lenses fizz quietly to themselves from their little hydrogen peroxide cylinder, but mine are done and I leave them to curl into little blue-tinged crescents on the counter. Delicate like glass.

I like night showers, I like the way the hot water falls on me in the dark. I like the heavy white noise that fills my ears and stops my anxious thoughts. Just the warm water, the dark, and my skin slowly warming and tingling back to life. I like the slippery bar of soap,  and I like the way my skin feels scrubbed and clean. The steam now smells of lavender and vaguely of home. I can see out the widow into he inky blackness, the glowing snow reflecting the dim moon in my backyard.

The cost of water edges into my calm, and I feel guilty for the water bill that the furlough means we cannot pay. I shut the tap off, and wrap myself in the heavy cotton robe hanging on a simple nail in the windowsill. I have lived in this house for five years, and I have replaced everything, but I like that small little nail.

I like the gentle smudges of black around my eyes, as I rub a circle clear on the mirror and lean in, my myopic eyes shift their focus. With my contacts, I cannot see close. Without them, I lean in and everything is clear and bright. The details of my skin are fascinating for a brief moment. I like the juxtaposition of my in/ability to focus. It feels right.

The blowdryer offers up a second wave of white noise, blocking out all the worries, and I like that. My warm hair blows around my like a tangled halo, soft and a little wild, and I like that too.

I leave the robe draped over my chair, and shrug on my grey sweater, over my grey stripped nightgown. My kids would laugh, calling this my uniform. I like grey a ridiculous amount—it’s my comfort color, and right now, it’s a good thing.

My husband sits in his chair by the window, a book folded in his lap, a pile of clean laundry with him in the chair. He stares off in the middle distance, his face half shadowed from the inadequate reading lamp on a rickety table I love and he’s baffled by. He spent the day calling our utilities, our insurance companies, our mortgage company; all the bills typical of any family of six people. He wanders around the house, helpless to do anything, helpless to contribute to the work to which he’s dedicated his professional life. We’re trying to make the money leftover from December last through January, while not knowing if it will have to be stretched even further.

I like the little reprieves we can find. Even if it’s just hot water.

What a Shutdown Means


DC Metro Train Car, Friday 11 January 2019

We’re two weeks into 2019 and we’re three weeks into the federal shut-down. I’m starting to think until the ripples reach the rest of the country, that a lot of folks don’t quite understand what that means.

I don’t want to fixate on things too much, but it’s serious for the nearly million families affected, and it’s going to be even more serious as the financial and social ripples spread out. Right now, in the Northern Virginia area where we live, and where employment is heavily, heavily federal, what it means is this…

The majority of Federal employees aren’t what people imagine when they listen to the news. It’s not the lobbyists on Capital Hill, or the special interest lawyers. In DC, it’s Smithsonian employees, curators, archivists preserving our national heritage. It’s the cafeterias, gift shops and janitorial services in each of the many national museums and other federal buildings. It’s the tourist economy around the entire National Mall. It’s the monuments themselves, which are fenced off and not available to visit. It’s the vendors who line downtown DC, which is normally hustling, regardless of the month. It’s FBI agents investigating all manor of crimes, State Department professionals who work to ensure world stability, food inspectors making sure regulations are followed, scientists with years-long research projects, transit authorities, passenger and freight rail safety and inspections, trucking and mass transport, and it’s the tragedy of National Parks that might be irreparably damaged in some cases.

It’s the air traffic controllers at every single airport in the country. They are “essential” so they are reporting for duty every day, but they are not being paid. That’s a pretty damn important job for people who are feeling burnt out and stressed, having last made money before Christmas, and trying to figure out how they’re going to feed their families and pay their bills. The same for every TSA agent in every airport. “Essential” and also working without pay–and those are not high-paying jobs. Mo, who you know and love, has worked every day, including Christmas Day, is a single mother of three, and has received no pay. Her former husband is also a federal employee and is also not being paid, so there is literally no support.

Let’s not forget the foreign service members who are reporting for duty in far reaching countries, who are not always safe, and who sometimes have with their families with them, who are far from home and also not being paid.

Repeat this story half a million times. The other half a million are waiting at home, desperate to get back to vital work they have pending, projects that have been in the works for years, research that may now be compromised, and far-reaching medical testing that is in jeopardy

In the Northern Virginia area, as this shutdown drags on, our Metro transit trains are empty, and we are starting to see small businesses fail. Restaurants are deserted, grocery store shelves are low on products. Maid services, yard services, “extras” are being cut, and the economy is shrinking. Some of this might come back when things eventually open, but some of our communities are irreparably damaged.

My own husband has three college degrees and a decade and a half of federal service. Like so many people in our area, he chose federal service out of love for his country, despite often higher salaries in the private sector. He’s a highly trained specialist, and trust me, you may not know what he does, but you want him and agents like him doing their jobs.

Federal agents cannot strike. If a federal agent who is deemed “essential” doesn’t show up for their job, they don’t just loose their job (and possible seniority and retirement), but an arrest warrant is issued for them. So whatever you’ve been hearing on the news, or facebook, or from your loud uncle is not likely the whole story.

And none of this even touches on the emotional upwelling of fear and trauma this brings up for children (and parents, to be frank) who have already lived through loss, housing instability and food insecurity. We don’t know how we’re going to pay our bills—and neither do most other people in our area. Consider the ripples.

And I didn’t even get to foodstamps, WIC and other programs protecting the most very vulnerable among us. And that 800,000 number is the actual employees. In our family, my husband supports us and four children. If you extrapolate that out, the number of people being harmed and left without means of support is horrifying.

The United States of America needs to be up and functioning. People need to grasp how important those many professional, highly trained and dedicated civil servants are not just for our own health, safety and stability—but for the stability of the entire world.

December: A Short Summation on a Year That Took Forever


I love Christmas, and while I get Epiphany, when you’re like me and deck your halls on or before Thanksgiving, by December 26, you’re ready to take that shiz down. I lasted until December 27 this year, because we had to have Second Christmas when we picked Kelsey up. That’s love, folks.

But backing up a bit…


We started the month (Because our trees and halls were decked the week before in November I love when Thanksgiving is early!) with our final, very last, middle-school holiday band concert. Abby was able to play her euphonium with aplomb at the 8th grade concert. The rule for us is that after a concert, the musician gets to choose the family activity, and Abby chose dinner at Waffle House. We were all in, even Bean who agreed to try a waffle, which was awesome, until he finished it and then ran outside to hurl in the parking lot. Best of intentions? A win anyway? Eh, who can say.

We’re all having a hard time processing that Jeffrey is turning 18 this coming year, most of all him. At our church Christmas party, he still tried for the Santa Knee Sit, but his ultimate goal is to wear the red suit himself. His uncle David spends December visiting sick kids in Utah hospitals in a custom made red velvet Santa suit, and Jeff has been uniquely inspired by this. So much so that it’s retooled our family New Years Eve plans. But that’s getting ahead of myself.


The cats continue their hostile takeover, and Tiberius continues to be confused as to how many cats actually exist, and where they are at any given time. It’s amusing.

The boys moved their basement apartment around again, and for the first time in their lives, they have separate bedrooms. Bean took over the guest room, and Jeffrey stayed in the main studio. We found ourselves playing basement Tetris again, and had to add another bookcase with the deconstruction of Bean’s old loft bed. I mean, he’s over 6′ now, and it was getting a little silly, him climbing up there every night so his feet could hang out the end. There was also new wall space, and as a surprise, I pained this while they were at school one day.


I live tweeted my gallbladder surgery, and I am more than happy to report that the offending member has been excised and burnt to cinders. My incisions are still tender, but for the most part the constant pain is gone. Man, if you have gallbladder issues, I cannot recommend enough the benefits of having that sucker yanked. I’m exactly two weeks post-surgery, and I would do it again today if I had to. It made that big a difference, that quickly. My good friend Andrea sent me a stuffed gallbladder to help me get over my loss.

As is tradition, we baked about a million and a half cookies, had our annual frosting party, and then delivered our goodies to our neighbors.

Christmas itself was small and sweet. We’re effected by the government shutdown, as always, and that’s after two cars needed new brakes last month, so we have to be really careful right now. The kids are old enough to understand, and we had a nice day anyway, with lots of love from friends and family, even when they live far away.

The week between Christmas and New Years is really the Lost World. We’ve watched a lot of movies, spent time hanging with each other, and cooked a lot of good food.

New Years Eve is our traditional tamales day, but as I mentioned, Jeffrey got a wild hair. Tonight, as training for his eventual goal of Santa, we are baking pies to deliver to fire houses and police stations, as acts of service to service people on a hectic night. His goal was to bake ten pies, and we’ll then deliver them later tonight. So far, as of this writing, there are five pies cooling on the kitchen counter. I did help with the latice work, but I think next year, he’ll be okay on his own.

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 3.17.08 PM

So the rest of the year was a bit of a slog in more than one place. Things are uncertain for us (and a million other people) right now as a government civil servant family. I don’t do New Years resolutions. At all. But what I did see was a message from President Obama challenging each of us to do more to help others, to serve, in 2019.  So I decided to do something that is really scary, and I shared something I have been working on for a while now.

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 3.16.04 PM

And with that, we look forward to a new year, and new adventures, and hopefully, a better, more stable, more loving world for us, for you, and for people everywhere.



November: The Cats Have Taken Over

IMG_4622I mean, it’s not like no one told me. I saw Lady & the Tramp when I was little (and a million times since) and I remember the pair of Siamese cats. I saw the havoc they wrecked on not only the house, but on the poor hapless dog. I saw them scheme and work together and use their wiles to drive Lady batty. And then I went to the shelter and got sucked into… a PAIR OF CATS anyway.

We’ve always been a Dog Family. I grew up in a Dog Family, and I have had four dogs as an adult human. The count on my childhood is unclear, but is somewhere over “many” and under “crazy people” but maybe not by much. But my daughter is a Cat Person…and I am weak because I mostly like animals. They make home feel homey. I love the globs of enthusiastic ridiculous joy with which Tiberius greets me with when I come home. Or when I come back from taking out the recycle. Or even when I return from the shower. I do wonder at the windshield-wipers of his memory, and how it’s possible to be wiggling-out-of-his-skin-happy when someone has been gone for 3.4 minutes. But whatever. It’s delightful.

The cats? I’m lucky if I get a long blink from their perch on Their Ottoman. And yet… and yet…despite myself, despite my status as a Dog Person…I love them.

But DAMN if they don’t get into everything, go everywhere, control the dog, obey only their own whims, and insist on being right SMACK in the middle of whatever I am attempting to do. Tiberius loves to Help. But his Helping is more of an emotional support, standing ready to assist me in whatever way I most need, especially if it entails resting his head in my lap or having his ears scratched. The cats? They Help by knocking the bowls off the shelf where the cat treats were *yesterday* and by attempting to scale every shelf and every nook in the house. They help by amusing themselves with hair-ties and dropped cotton balls and tear-assing from one side of the house to the other at 3 am, while using Abby as a trampoline. They help by sticking their heads in my water glass, falling in the toilet, and getting stuck in lampshades in the hall closet. They help by stalking the dog’s tail and cat-giggling when he jumps three feet in the air, woken from his late-morning nap. So life is interesting.

We spent the majority of November is Family Mode.

My dear friend got married, and had a 1950’s retro themed wedding that was not only a wonderful celebration of inter-faith love and family, but was damn near the most fashionable and fun wedding we’ve ever attended. Abby and I helped with the flowers, Bean wore a red tuxedo, and it was a great kick off to the holidays.

My in-laws were here for the majority of the month, but it was really chill. They’re wonderful, and it was a low-key, easy visit where we just enjoyed hanging out. They spent some time touring historic sites, and landing between our house and Jon’s brother, who just moved his family to the DC area.  Our niece was baptized and we had the typical American Thanksgiving.


I took a major test I had been prepping for for months; it was really hard, but my score—which I don’t know yet—will not reflect a lack of preparation. I’m hoping I am smart enough to pull off a new plan I have been incubating, but we shall see. I know that’s vague, but that’s about all I can say for now.

Of course, right before the holidays hit, two of our cars had their brakes go out. Jeff and Jon were able to work together to replace the pads and rotors on Jeffrey’s commuter car, but the Tahoe needed a skill-level that was several notches above Driveway Mechanic;  we had to suck it up and take it in. So there went our family trip to NYC. Merry Christmas, kids! We got you all new brakes! *grumble mumble grumble*

I somehow managed to get both Christmas trees up, but the “pre-lit” status turns out to only last about 4 years. First one tree, and then the other, fritzed out. My mother-in-law and I spent about two hours taking all the dead lights from the family tree, and then the following night, Jon and I spent another 3 hours tearing down Mr. Fabulous in the front room. Never again. Jeffrey ran to Walgreens so many times for more lights the clerk was beginning to wonder… Jon and I lost patience and started just cutting the cords from the boughs. If you’ve ever had that task, you know the joy of which I speak. But what are you going to do? Throw the tree out? Nah.


So now with Mr. Fabulous and the Family Tree Who Isn’t Named are bedecked in shiny new lights, courtesy of a family effort.

My Christmas spirit is a little wan this year. Maybe I just need to give it time. It’s still only November 30, right? I’m just usually gung-ho Christmas Joy Spreader, and this year? I’m kind of feeling a little meh. Maybe it’s fact that New Brakes is kind of a sucky family present? I mean, I’m glad that we caught it, and that we had the ability to pay to fix it. But it’s not really as fun as looking forward to a broadway show and cheesecake at Juniors. It’s still early, right?

I can hear the cats destroying things downstairs, which is frankly better than them sitting incessantly on my keyboard.

Happy November, friends. Hope yours was happy and healthy.


On a Wing & a Prayer

Yesterday was one of those parenting days that leaves you wrung out and feeling like a pile of wet ashes. I’ve been pretty lucky that even with all we’ve been through, my kids are good human beings, and we have decent lines of communication. Under the best of circumstances, transitioning from parenting children to parenting teenagers to being a parent to a young adult isn’t a path with clear markers and boundaries, and it’s hard.

I’ve been 12, been 15, been 17 before… but they haven’t, and the world in which they live is so very different from the world when I was those ages. I don’t always know what to do.  So much of parenting is on a wing and a prayer. Years ago, an older friend who had been through the ringer with her four sons told me “Just love them. You love them through it. No matter what happens, you just love them.” My kids were very small at the time, but her words have continued to have ripples in my life.

When I don’t know what else to do, when I don’t know what to say, or when I cannot (or should not) fix things for them, I default to making sure they know they are loved.

Days like yesterday are when I most miss calling David. His gift of insight was profound, and he was uniquely good at finding the perfect pearl his kids’ needed. It’s not revisionist history, and I’m not glancing over his flaws; but he was like a concentrated mineral or resin; what he could offer might have been small, but it was potent and essential. There was light he could shed that I have a hard time always finding myself.

To the child yesterday, I said “I wish your dad were here. He would do better at this part than I am…” and the child looked at me and said, “Dad is just stories to me.”

My heart stung and split again in a perfect aching wave of sorrow and grief. Over and over this happens. You relive the loss, you revisit it, the waves catch you off-guard and vulnerable, and it just never goes away. My child spoke the truth. They don’t remember him, they don’t know the man I knew, they don’t carry him with them the way I do, they never got to know his bright and shining wisdom, and that loss will never be recovered. I want to wail and scream in sorrow, but I don’t. I swallow hard, and nod at my kid, who is speaking what is true for them, and I honor it. This isn’t about me.

When Jon got home, we sat on the porch steps and talked about the day, and about all five of our kids and their wildly disparate needs, and how we could (or could not) meet those needs. Big picture, mostly we’re okay, and mostly so are the kids. We know this, and we’re grateful. We know there will be bumpy days, and sometimes bumpy stretches. I carry the words of my friend in my mouth like a prayer, “Just love them. Love them through it.”

Journaling October

It’s one of those fall mornings where the light is golden and the leaves match. It’s finally cold enough (at least part of the time) that the heater clicks on and warm air floods the house. The dog is snoring, ever next to me in his undying loyalty, while I sit in my second-favorite chair next to my bed, feet tucked up under the edge of my comforter for a little extra warmth. (My favorite chair is in my office, where it’s too cold right now, and also the sunlight is better in my room.)

My thoughts are not calm most of these days, and when I do wander inadvertently into a peaceful space, it feels uneasy. I am worried about my country. I am worried about the world. I never wanted to live in ‘interesting times’ and find so much in the news to be unsettling and even frightening. News has always been that way—but there are trends right now I never imagined being attached to the America I was raised to believe in. I know enough history to be very concerned.

With the forthcoming election (everyone, please, I beg of you…vote) hanging in the foreground, I am also deep in the latter-stages of preparing to re-enter grad school. I’m not ready to talk yet about the what, and the where is still being negotiated, but nevertheless the ball is rolling. I waver between thinking it’s bonkers to do this at my age, and then thinking I’d be crazy not to. I’m smart enough. Other people have done it. The years are going to pass regardless. It was bonkers to go to college as a 38 year-old single mother with three kids. I did that. I can do this.

I want to have some legitimate weight behind the kind of SpEd activism and advocacy I have done for years for Bean. I want to help other people, and while I can do that on my own, having the degrees and letters after your name opens doors. If I couple that with my years of experience navigating the SpEd system, with fighting for my kid’s rights, and helping other parents do the same, I have some hope for contributing in a meaningful way to a field about which I am both passionate and knowledgable.

Fun fact: Jeffrey and I could be starting college together.

Which is super weird. I’ve been sending him on the college tours offered by his high school. It’s surreal to think in just a few short months he’s graduating. He was in kindergarten last week, his orange t-shirt matching his copper hair, sitting on the curb waiting for me to pick him up. Now he throws on his letter jacket and grabs his keys and heads out the door with a boisterous, “I’m leaving, mom…” and my heart whispers back, “I know…” Eighteen years is really nothing.


Eighteen years is about what a healthy cat can live. So Abby did the math on how long she could count on a new addition to our family being with her. The answer is that she will be 30, and have finished her PhD. God bless her. So I took her to the local shelter with the intention of letting her choose a cat. They had some guinea pigs, and I was kind of hoping for those, but instead she found a bonded pair of siblings who were five months old and oh my goodness would you look at them and can I hold them please mom? I mean, why not? I spent so many years having to say no to so many things. Two cats are really no more work than one cat, right? So now we have two cats.

Tiberius is…working on his feelings. The cats, in typical cat fashion, don’t care at all about him. He, on the other hand, really loves them and wants nothing more than to love and sniff and lick and hug them. It will be nice when they learn he’s harmless, but we are not there yet. We’re keeping them separate, allowing cats and dogs to alternate between spaces in the house, and where they can see each other, but cannot yet fully interact. That’s what the experts said to do anyway. So far we’re a week in, and Ty still just wants to love them. And they mostly ignore him. I suspect that’s pretty normal.

I’m surprised at how much I like them. I haven’t had a cat since I was a kid, and while I still generally prefer the open, unaffected, and boisterous love of a dog, there is something to be said for the refined charm and subtlety of a cat. Also, they don’t drool. The kids absolutely marveled that the cats knew to use their litter box without any paper training or accidents. Abby is over the moon with happiness. That’s worth it.


Apparently, along with going back to grad school, your forties are also about your body sort of falling apart. Sometimes it feels like after all those years of not having insurance and living on the edge, that things just held out as long as they could, and then everything exhaled and let go at once. And I know how lucky I am. My latest outraged organ is my gallbladder. Waiting to have that sucker yanked, while I live on Tums and Powerade. If you’ve ever had gallbladder pain, I tip my hat to you. I’d rather have another ten-pound baby with no drugs than to have this monster tearing up my guts.

On the upside, I’m not fainting anymore. The iron infusions from this summer did the trick, and for the first time in my adult life, I am not anemic. My hair stopped falling out, I have energy again, and not fainting in the shower or falling down the stairs is pretty great, I have to admit.

Two dear friends are getting married this coming weekend after the most amazing, decade-long, and star-crossed love story you could imagine. She’s a Mormon, he’s a Catholic, they were both previously married, and they approach the altar this weekend with letters from both the LDS church and from the Vatican, blessing their marriage. It’s going to be just overflowing with joy and love. The reception is mid-century themed, and I found Bean a red tuxedo jacket (Satin lapels and everything!) at the thrift store. The girls are wearing crinolines and spectators. Jon and Jeff are wearing pin-striped suits. I will change my mind at least 12 times between now and Saturday.

Last Saturday, by the way, Bean had a little adventure. The week before, he made a tweet (do you Twitter?) asking our local grocery store when peanut butter was going to be on sale again. I had previously bought 6 cases when it was on sale. Bean numbered them 1-72, and he’d just opened jar 72. We needed more. Surprisingly, the store responded, and said if he got 72 retweets, they’d give him 72 more jars! Thus began his adventure…

He got the 72 retweets in hours, which is awesome, considering at the time he had maybe 8 followers on Twitter, all of whom were us. But then Twitter did what it can sometimes do, and the grocer, Lidl, a German company that just opened shop in the US, challenged him to get 72 thousand retweets and get a lifetime supply of peanut butter. He tweet is currently at 33 thousand retweets and hundreds of encouraging comments from people all over the world. I don’t know that he’s going to reach the magic number, but it’s been fun and has helped amplify the voices of other adults who also have self-restricted diets and food or texture sensitivity due to Autism. And Lidl has been lovely to him.

We picked up his 72 jars from the store on Saturday. He wore his Rainbow Party Suit, after we put a poll on Twitter. Sometimes, every so often, social media can be a force for good and not just wreckage. Lidl did it right.


I’m just going to ignore Halloween, which I think is tomorrow.

We have family coming in for the holidays and I am so happy! Jon’s parents will be here for most of November, dividing their time between us and Jon’s brother, who just moved to the area. I love having family visit, and I love my in-laws. I love that we finally have family that lives close. One of the hardest things about moving to the east coast was being so removed from my family—it still is. But Jon’s family has felt like my own family from day one, and having someone nearby who you love makes a huge difference. We have November birthdays to celebrate, a baptism, some awards, Thanksgiving, a holiday concert, and we get to decorate for Christmas.

Oh, and I dyed my hair red. It’s October, and no one stopped me this year. Dammit.