Tuesday, November 22, 2011


As a health journalist, I get to dig around in the latest health news and research. Invariably, I end up finding ways I can improve my own life. This month, I saw this piece about how giving thanks actually makes you healthier. Who couldn’t use a little extra well-being during this crazed, cold-and-flu ridden season?

So here it is--my list of things and people I’m grateful for, right now. It’s by no means complete, because if it were, this post would be a mile long. Turns out, once I started counting my blessings, they started popping out of the woodwork.

The List:

I’m grateful for my healthy children.

I’m grateful for the ability to provide those children with a relatively nice life that includes healthcare, nourishing food, a safe living environment, even the occasional vacation.

I’m grateful for a husband who is a hardworking, dedicated teacher, coach, and dad.

I’m grateful for a home that keeps us warm and dry and does all the things that a house is supposed to do.

I’m grateful for Tacoma, my gritty, historic hometown that never takes itself too seriously.

I’m grateful to live 5 minutes from an amazing zoo and parks that hold some of my earliest memories, and for the chance to watch my kids make new memories in those same special places.

I’m grateful for the gift of meaningful, enjoyable work.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to help more parents find restful sleep for their kids and themselves, as I did last Thursday at the Holistic Moms Network meeting in Tacoma.

I’m grateful to have had the same best friend for 16 years.

I’m grateful for my siblings and mom, who’ve been by my side during a difficult year.

I’m grateful for hot coffee and warm homemade muffins on a cool morning.

I’m grateful to be empowered in my career, to be able to set my own schedule (most of the time) and my own priorities—so that I have the time to make forts and cookies and art projects with my kids.

I’m grateful to my longtime moms’ group, Tacoma Area Attachment Parents, for providing friendship and support for going on 4 years.

I’m grateful to my writing coach and teacher Christina Katz, who showed me by example this year that taking a traditionally-published book from concept to final product is incredibly labor-intensive…and also enormously satisfying (her next book, The Writer’s Workout, will be released Dec. 6).

I’m grateful to the global mom village of moms and bloggers who generously share their wit and wisdom on the internet, especially blogging pals like Abigail Green (who will soon publish an e-book based on her popular blog, Abby Off the Record—stay tuned!).

And last, but not least, I’m grateful that I get the chance to be a better mom, a better wife, a better friend, a better writer, and a better person every day.

Yes, life is good. I feel healthier already. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Grateful for my goofballs.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My First Article: A "Very Good Beginning"

My sister recently brought over a bag of my old artwork that she cleaned out of my mom’s garage. In it, I found what appears to be my first article. Though it’s not dated, I peg it around fourth grade. It’s a community-minded piece about “Officer Tandy.”

Since the scan is a bit hard to read (the original is 20+ years old, after all) I’ve typed out the text, including the spelling errors:

“Being a police officer keeps me constantly on the go,” says Officer Tandy, a 27-year-old police officer. Officer Tandy likes her job because “It’s like controling [sic] the road,” she says. “In fact, it is controling [sic] the streets. Everyone’s safty [sic] is in my hands.”

A good police office is alert, ready to go and caring. They have to care about their community. Officer Tandy is all of those things.

I don't know what I love most about this. Is it that the story features a courageous, strong, caring female police office named “Tandy” who is happy with her job? Is it because Officer Tandy appears to be a bit obsessed with “controling” things, as I was back then? Is it the meticulous (but still not great) cursive writing? Is it the revelation that my writing style and voice haven't changed much over the past two decades?

No, I think it’s the fact that my teacher wrote “Very good beginning!” and that my parents thought enough of my “article” to save it all of these years. They couldn’t have known that one day I’d make a living writing magazine articles that would be read by millions. It was a very good beginning, indeed.

So, parents, the next time your child paints a masterpiece or pens a story, tuck it away someplace safe—it might just be a “very good beginning” worth keeping.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Notes from the Garden 2011

It’s October, and I just plucked the last remaining apples, tomatoes, and sugar snap peas from our backyard garden. Despite the challenges of gardening with a preschooler and a toddler, I managed to get in a little gardening this year. In fact, it’s because of my kiddos that I ultimately decided to do it: I figured we would be spending lots most of the summer in the backyard anyway, so I might as well find something to do in between pushing the girls on the swings, refilling the kiddie pool, and reuniting bugs and worms with their long-lost families (a favorite pastime for my daughter, and, I’m sure, 4-year-olds everywhere).

So we planted. And I learned. Like parenting, gardening is an ongoing experiment. If we can apply what we’ve learned consistently, season after season, we’ll flourish. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Here are the tidbits I gleaned from my garden this year:

Good Dirt

My knowledge on the biology of plants is sparse, but I do know that vegetables derive some of their nutrition from the soil in which they’re planted. And our dirt left something to be desired (it came complete with cigarette butts and glass shards courtesy of our home’s previous owners). I'm all about maximizing results and minimizing effort, and I really wanted my dirt to do most of the plant-growing work for me. So we loaded the back of the minivan with Tacoma’s free compost, TAGRO, and worked it into our soil before we got started.

Pack ‘Em In

This year, I kept my gardening goals modest, and I didn’t plant all that much. But next year, I’ll be using every last bit of garden space I’ve got, because I learned that adding more plants doesn’t necessarily add more work. And you have to plan to sacrifice some of your harvest to the bugs, the birds, and the sun—and your kids (see below).

Garden to Table—Yeah, Right

Some of my plants—especially broccoli and peas—were great producers. But hardly anything made it to the table because the kids would snap off the veggies and devour them on the spot. On the plus side, their veggie consumption increased by roughly a zillion percent. But I didn’t get to fill my table or my fridge with homegrown produce, like I’d planned.

Baby Plants, Mini Harvest

Tiny veggies like miniature butter lettuce and baby carrots are cute. And they may be well-suited to small gardens and shallow soil. But for the tiny amount of food they produce, they sure are labor-intensive. Next year, I’ll be planting full-size varieties.

It’s in the Water

In past years my success in the garden has been spotty, at best. I thought I was a bad gardener, but it turns out, I was just a bad waterer, drenching my plants when I remembered and then forgetting about them for a week. This year, I finally invested in a drip irrigation system, and it made a world of difference.

As we say goodbye to this year’s harvest, I’m already planning next year’s garden (which may include—gulp—CHICKENS!). That’s another way that growing a garden is like raising a family: there’s always something to look forward to around the bend.

What a difference a few weeks makes: Bianca picking apples in September.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ten Ways to Stay Hitched for (at least!) Ten Years

Normally, I’m not in the business of giving out marriage advice. But my tenth anniversary earlier this year (TEN years? Really?) inspired me to write this post during the summer. I quickly forgot all about it, of course. Since I’m buried under deadlines this week, I thought I’d run it now. I hope you can learn from (or relate to) my hard-won experience.

Have a Short Memory

He forgot to mow the lawn. He broke the dishwasher. The kid fell down on his watch. Everyone makes mistakes, and your spouse will make plenty. This gives you ample opportunity to catalog all of his errors and faults, if you so choose. But remembering every little thing your spouse does wrong—and throwing it back in their face when it suits you—is a near-guarantee that you won’t be as happy as you could be.

Live with Imperfection

No one is at their best 24 hours a day, and you will sometimes see (and hear, and smell) some things about your beloved that you don’t love, or even like. When your imperfect spouse starts to get under your skin, remember, everyone, from Bradley Cooper to Brad Pitt, has a few less-than-stellar qualities. Maybe more than a few—celebrities aren’t exactly marriage champions. In fact, they make less-than-perfect regular guys look pretty good, if you ask me.

Make Deposits

Marriages are sustained by lots of small deposits of goodwill over the long run. In marriage, you need to put in a little more than you expect to take out (the same is true of bank accounts and careers). Give without expecting to be repaid immediately. Marriage is a certificate of deposit, not a checking account—it’s a long-term investment.

Share Interests

Sharing an interest—even something as simple as a favorite TV show—is a great way to ensure that you’ll spend enjoyable time together. Find a television show to watch together. Learn to enjoy a sport that he likes. Take up birdwatching.

Let Each Other Grow

Steve and I got married right out of college, and I knew that in order to succeed as a couple, we’d both have to do a lot of growing up, both together and as individuals. Today, people feel like they need to travel the world and “find themselves” before getting married. But no matter how many times you’ve circled the globe, or how complete you feel as a person when you say “I do,” you will still experience growth after marriage. Giving your spouse space to grow (and taking the space you need, as well) is one of the best gifts you can give your marriage.

Change Your Socks, Not Your Spouse

The man I married loves the Seahawks. He was born to be a coach. He values his high school friends. These qualities make him the person he is. And I try my best to let him keep the traits that make him the man I fell in love with—even when they inconvenience me. His personality is not mine to tinker with.

Be Your Own Person

Puh-lease—take some time “you” time on a regular basis. Don’t wait for your spouse to give you a gift-wrapped certificate for a spa day, because it may never happen. And don’t wait until you feel burned out and full of resentment before finally taking a girl’s night out or signing up for a Zumba class. You need time for yourself like you need air.

Lighten Up

Steve is great at making me see the lighter side of things. And “forcing” me to watch shows like Tosh.O, “against my will.” Thanks in great part to him, I laugh every day. Laughing together has kept us happy through the highs and lows of life.

Don’t Delegate—Collaborate

Men don’t like being bossed around. Trust me on this one. You may feel like you “run” your household, and you probably do. But if you want more household help from your husband, don’t simply hand him a list of chores. You are not his boss. Approach any problem as a co-collaborator, and give him shared responsibility for the outcome.

Great Expectations

A wise family member once told me “Expectations are pre-meditated resentments.” It’s breathtakingly easy to develop lofty expectations for your mate without saying a word about what it is you’re expecting of him or her. These unspoken expectations can blossom into resentments faster than dandelions go to seed.

Never Worry Alone

Sometimes, after a long day wrapped up in your own concerns, it seems easier just to turn out the lights and say goodnight instead of sharing your worries with your spouse. One of my favorite authors, Edward Hallowell (he literally wrote the book on Worry) wrote something I think of often: Never worry alone. Sharing a life means sharing your worries, big and small. And being married to your best friend means that you never have to worry alone.

Older and (possibly) wiser: Steve and I at our 10-year vow renewal in Maui.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Staying Close to Girls As They Grow

I think I was fated to be the mom of little girls. Growing up, I ordered around my three younger sisters and organized girly groups at school like the ill-fated “Stardust” club in third grade. (After a few months, the group dissolved over a leadership dispute: I wanted to be president, vice-president, and basically dictator-in-charge-of-everything. Strangely, the other girls in the group didn’t share my vision.) Ballet, cheerleading, sorority—I’ve spent my life in girl-world. Most of the time, I feel well-equipped to be the mom of two headstrong, expressive daughters, thanks to my past.

My girls are girly-girls, mommy’s girls, my little shadows. However you slice it, they identify strongly with me as their female role model, and they want to do EVERYTHING that I do. Making dinner, putting on makeup, typing emails—if they’re awake, they’re by my side. I generally feel like I’m walking my house with two little ankle weights named Bianca and Mia.

Though I sometimes miss having personal space, I love the closeness that I share with my two mini-mes. I’m enjoying it now, because know it might not last forever. In fact, the planner in me is already thinking ahead to the tween and teen years and wondering how I can keep my girls close as they grow up.

That’s why I was thrilled to meet fellow writer Cindy Hudson. Like me, she’s the mom of two daughters. She wanted to maintain a close mom-daughter bond as her girls grew, so she did something awesome—she created a mother-daughter book club for each of her daughters. To help other moms do the same thing, she wrote Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs (Seal Press/Oct 2009). And this fall, she followed up by releasing a meeting planner guide to help moms plan successful book club meetings with their daughters. The guide includes book suggestions, author interviews, even recipes that match the theme of each book. How cool is that?

My girls are still too young for a mom-daughter book club, but I’m looking forward to starting clubs when they’re old enough. And it’s great to have a resource like Cindy to look to for inspiration. If you're the mom of a girl, I urge you to promote reading, relationships, and a lasting mom-daughter bond by creating a book club with your daughter. The world needs more well-adjusted, well-read, connected girls with strong family bonds, and we girl-moms can use all of the support and help we can get.

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this review. All views are my own.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Seriously, kid?

A few days ago my four-year-old—my FOUR-year-old—requested a cell phone. Her complete confidence in her need for a cell phone, and in the fact that I would surely agree with her and rush out to get one, was both admirable and unsettling. The conversation began while I was bent over the bathtub, washing her sister’s hair. It went like this:

Her: “Mom, I need a real phone.”

Me: “Like a play phone? You have one of those.”

Her: “No, mom.” (Clearly exasperated by her hopelessly slow mommy.) “Play phones are dead.”

Me: (Incredulous.) “You mean a real phone? Like dad and I have?”

Her: “Yes, a real phone. But for me. Bianca.”

And I just sat there, blinking.

For real? Does the cell-phone begging really begin at four? Wow, we are in trouble. And it doesn’t end there. It seems that she’s gone into consumer mode all of the sudden, and she’s been compiling a list of things she absolutely cannot live without.

Here are the other things she’s started asking for:

Pierced ears.


High heels.

Baby Alive.

Polly Pocket.

A guinea pig.

A chameleon. (Most days, the first words out of her mouth when she wakes up are “Mom, I really want a chameleon!” No, “Good morning, Mom!” or “Can we make pancakes?” Her brain is tuned to the lizard channel.)

I suppose I get the pet begging, and I do understand the toy requests. I’m one of those mean mommies who doesn’t think should kids have too many toys, and I hate clutter, so I understand that she might feel understocked in the toy department. But the grown-up stuff like cell phones and pierced ears throws me for a loop. Steve and I are hardly tech junkies. And she sees me wearing high heels and earrings so rarely, I can’t believe they’re even on her radar.

I’m not trying to raise a little consumer, but it looks as though I am. And it looks like we’re in for many long years of begging, because she is NOT getting a cell phone. Until she’s at least six.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fingerpainting (and other things that seem like a good idea)

Oh yes, they did.

At first glance, fingerpainting seems harmless enough. After all, it’s a fun, creative, old-timey kid pastime. Buying those brightly-colored pots of paint may seem like a smart decision—your little ones will be happily occupied while you get a few things done. Brilliant!

Of course, if you fall for the fingerpainting hype (like I did), you might find that you spend way more time cleaning the paint off everyone and everything in your household than you ever gained by having the kids occupied for a few minutes. Repeat after me: So not worth it.

When it comes to entertaining kids, lots of things that seem like a good idea are really just disasters waiting to happen. I seem to keep learning these lessons over and over again. Here are a few examples, gleaned from my vast personal experience on the topic:

  • Involving your child in a complicated, from-scratch cupcake recipe when they would have been just as happy with an eighty-nine-cent cake mix. (Kids don’t need you to be Martha Stewart. They just want food.)
  • Stopping for a treat after a long day at the zoo, because you just have to add one more fun thing to the day’s agenda. (Hello, fun overload.)
  • RSVPing yes for two birthday parties in the same day, to avoid disappointing anyone. (Overdosing on birthday cake and soda is never a good idea.)
  • Infusing homemade Play-Doh with a yummy scent that smells good enough to eat. (Because kids will!).
  • Taking your preschooler shopping for school clothes so they can “pick out what they like.” (Unfortunately, princess dresses and elbow-length gloves aren’t school attire.)
  • Moon Sand. (This stuff may be fun, but scraping the damp, clumpy “sand” granules out of your carpet isn’t.)
  • Taking your cranky kids to the grocery store at 6 p.m. in search of ice cream. (There will be meltdowns. And I’m not talking about the ice cream.)
  • Dragging your child to library storytime after they’ve declared that they do NOT want to go. (Any activity that begins with “Well, let’s just try it anyway,” probably won’t end well.)

Writing about this topic has also made me think about the flipside, things that don’t seem like a good idea, but are. Parenting: the surprises never end! Food for thought, and possibly a future blog post.