Monday, September 24, 2018

Heaven is a place on Earth and that place is Switzerland

Oh dear Internet, I have been struggling for weeks on how to write about our trip to Switzerland. What is it about vacation - after you come home and daily life continues on, and your trip feels like a beautiful dream where you eat chocolate each day and wake up to beautiful views of the mountains. You spend the day hiking and eating all the cheese you can muster and stop for a beer at two in the afternoon and listen to the cow bells ring in the distance. And then think, "Oh right, that did all really happen. Let me just clean up this pile of dog vomit and fight traffic and sort through laundry and I'll get right back to remembering it."
Paris was amazing. Switzerland was heaven. Switzerland was more of the vacation part of our family vacation - you know, where we were a bit lazier in our daily activities. We hiked, but we also let the kids jump on trampolines and play on playgrounds. We hung out on our deck in the afternoons and read and drank wine and admired the mountains while the kids watched movies on the iPad. 
It was beautiful and glorious and relaxing. It was like nowhere we'd ever been before. When we were deciding where we wanted to go for the second half of our trip, we all agreed that we wanted somewhere that made people wrinkle their brows and, "you're going where?" We wanted to take trains and get away from people. We wanted a chance to slow down and breathe deeply after the hustle of city life. With Switzerland, we got it. 
Ninety percent of what made Switzerland so incredible were the towns we went to. We started in Murren, a charming alpine village in the Bernese Oberland region, with magnificent views and zero traffic. The town is perched on a ledge of Alpine pasture overlooking the steep Lauterbrunnen Valley below. 
The village was so calm and so quiet. I couldn't stop being surprised how something so enormous as the mountain peaks directly in front of us could be so peaceful and so still. Each day we hiked and ate chocolate and explored and we ate cheese and we hiked some more and we found ice cream and we read and we cloud-watched the mountains and we talked. We hiked from Murren to Grindelwald, stopped for a beer and shared a cheese board for lunch while the kids ran between the table and the playgound. We marveled at the Trummelbach Falls thundering above us, and ate homemade meringues the size of our fists. We followed a herd of cows through their pasture, listening to the cow bells clanging like church bells ring on Sunday mornings. We went to the tip-top of the Matterhorn and slid down ice slides and rode cable car and funiculars and cogwheel trains. 

This, however, is probably the kind of crap you hate hearing about from your freezing cold beige-paneled cubicle, or while your kids are staging a revolt from the next room over while you drink your hours-old lukewarm coffee. I know, I get it, I'd hate hearing about it too. Quit it with the beautiful mountain views and the enviously perfect family and the twinkling stars and the delicious chocolate, I'd think. 
And so, therefore Internet, you will not mind if I tell you how I cleaned up vomit at least once a day. Bingo! That just made you instantly less envious, didn't it? Suddenly, it doesn't seem like such a perfect, amazing vacation. 
When we left for our trip, Lily was in the middle of antibiotics and Daisy had just started a course of peniciliin for strep throat. Now, all three of my girls are normally very healthy children - a mild cold or a short bout of the flu may knock one or two of them back a few days, but nothing major. This, however, was the first time Daisy had ever taken an antibiotic. We made it through the first week in Paris, and it was on the very last cable car of the last thirty minutes of the eight-hour trek from Paris to Murren when Daisy started complaining of a rash that was driving her crazy. An allergy to peniciliin was actually the furthest thing from my mind. The next afternoon the rash was full-blown; we stopped the antibiotics and hunted down some advice at the local Apotheke. 
We naively thought the rash would just fade away, but as the week went on and we moved from Murren to Zermatt to Geneva the rash went full blown, a cough developed and the nausea started. Internet, if there is anything worse than being sick, it is being sick on your first overseas trip when you just want your own bed and your own space and clean pajamas. But, being true to form, Daisy was a total champ - hiking through exhaustion, smiling instead of crying, numbing her swollen throat with ice cream and always, always being positive. 
Just as with all travel - through Switzerland we practiced the fine art of balancing a profound wanderlust for this wide planet with the delicate yearnings for home. Travel stretches us. It is taxing at times, and achingly beautiful at others, and we always return home a bit crumpled, but a lot changed. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


It’s that time between seasons when the bathing suits and swim goggles hang up next to the hoodies in the hallway. When we divide our days between cozy blankets in the evenings, but coat our shoulders in sunscreen to guard against the afternoon sun. 

Last week, a camping road trip to visit J’s brother in Portland. Two weeks before that, J and I went on a road trip from Chicago to Nashville. This month, we stay home. Morning routines. Evening rituals. 

Soccer games and ballet practice. Piano and gymnastics. Homework and reading charts. Paint brushes and watercolors on the dining room table. The hammock hanging from the back deck. Jars of freshly canned plum compote from my brother-in-law’s backyard plum tree. 

Violet gave up her afternoon nap months ago. But, she is exhausted after school, so we pile on the couch with dozens of books: The Gruffalo, Little Blue Truck, Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy, Room on the Broom, Give a Moose a Muffin, and Mr. Magee and the Camping Spree just to name a few. 

My nightstand is piled high with books, but I am working to finish My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray. My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan, Ike and Kay by James MacManus and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware were all snagged just last week at the library. Even though I'm not sure when I'll find the time to read all the pages in just three weeks time. We just listened to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Penderwisk: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and One Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall on our ten hour road trip. I'm listening to Hamilton by Ron Chernow and The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder with the girls on audible. 
In an effort to kill all the germs in the house and clean out the camping dirt, I launder every last one of our sheets, linens and sleeping bags. Corral the missing pillowcase pairs and fold into packages for storing. Domestic hysteria, I thought, but in truth, what I’d wanted to do after all the choas of travel was perhaps better accomplished with bedding: cleaned, sorted, tidied. Thread counts promising what words cannot. It's what I'm hoping the slower days of fall will bring. 

These words, spoken by President Obama, “Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.”

This, too, from Laura Ingalls Wilder: “It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”

This week's project: charitable words. Mercy. Small kindness. Today it seems especially poignant to remember those words. To enjoy the sweetness of a crisp, fall apple. To feel the sun on my face. To enjoy the fleeting, fragility of life. 

Soon, fall. Jacket's for the morning walk to school. Afternoon bike rides. 

We’re ready.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Nokabes Birthday Letter

Dear Violet,

Over the past few weeks as I have been thinking about your birthday letter my mind has been ticking boxes for all the things you are learning and doing - all the moments I so desperately want to document in your letters, locking them away into a virtual time capsule of sorts. You can swim. Diving for rings and sticks and whatever else falls to the bottom of the pool. Cannonballs and side breathing. Check. You know most of your letters and their sounds (and when in doubt, you say H). Check. You can write and recognize your own name. Check. You carry on long-winded conversations about your day. Check. You draw and recognize shapes. Check. You ride your bike and hike for miles at a time. Check. You can hop on one foot, do a summersault and catch a ball. Check. You love fully, hug fiercely and can be wildly stubborn. Check, check, check.
Checks of achievement, sure, but also checks on an ever-growing to-do list of growing up. Sometimes I get locked into that soundtrack that is ever present in our days together. How can we do better? How can we do more, work harder, push further?

In high school I started long-distance running and cross country requires year round training. This is a grueling sport, but one that taught me the benefits of hard, honest work. There are no shortcuts when you are distance running, only running flats, pony-tails and gatorade. No bad referee calls or tech suits. In running, it’s your mind and your sweat and your soul and maybe a pot hole or an elbow dig along the way.
My junior year of high school my cross-country team won our regional championships and placed second in the state. Our coach used a Hawaiian pidgin word, nokabes, throughout that season. He wrote it on 3x5 index cards he gave us before all our big meets with other motivational quotes and words of encouragement. He shouted nokabes at us as we ran past him on the racing course, and reminded us of the word before training runs and track practices. It became part of our daily vernacular. Loosely translated, the word nokabes means “the very best.”

The thing I should tell you though, is our team had no front runner. We had no one superstar, but we were all evenly matched, sticking together through the entire grueling three mile race. That is what allowed us to win. We depended on each other. And, I think, what Coach Rodriguez was trying to ingrain in us was that we were all superheroes, needing each other to always be looking out for the very best. When we see the best in people this brings out their best. Believe that you are amazing, and you become amazing. He was saying to us as we ran by him, be you, be your best and let your teammates carry you to be your best self too. Nokabes.

It took me another twenty years to learn that these checks of achievement can be - and should be - a badge of honor, but that sometimes life is more than ticking off a to-do list. It is kindness, Violet. And good books and delicious treats and great music and warm sunshine - silver linings among the many storms you will face as you grow.

I guess what I am trying to say in this letter is that you are my nokabes. Your sisters are my nokabes. Your father is my nokabes. Your grandparents and aunties and uncles and friends and community and teachers and faraway mentors - they are all what make us our best selves - piecing together the broken and the mangled - allowing us to grow and learn and complete those checks of achievement.
My wish for you is this: that you will look often for nokabes. That you find nokabes in the people you meet. And that you will always strive to be nokabes.

I love you more than all the stars in the sky and the water in the ocean.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Violet is FOUR! (Two weeks ago!)

Eleven days ago was Violet’s birthday. In lieu of a babybook, I ask the following the following 20 questions to my birthday girl (starting with the third birthday). You can see last year’s  answers here. So, this morning, after walking sisters to school, I fired away. 
  1. What is your favorite color: blue, I mean, my favorite color is red. Or maybe it's blue. 
  2. What is your favorite toy: my elsa dress or pup (For her birthday, we gave her a new Elsa dress, and she has only taken it off very briefly, and usually only to put her new Moana dress on. And pup is her stuffed dog that she plays vet with.) 
  3. What is your favorite fruit: apples
  4. What is your favorite movie: Frozen 
  5. What is your favorite thing to wear: my elsa dress (this is the same one from answer #2). 
  6. What is your favorite animal: puppies or lions 
  7. What is your favorite song: Love is an Open Door and Let It Go (from Frozen, naturally. Personally, my favorite is when she sings Love is an Open Door and shouts "Sandwiches!" and then she bursts out laughing. It is the sweetest sound.) 
  8.  What is your favorite book: Fancy Nancy Bonjour Butterflies (She just got this for her birthday from Grandma and Grandpa. Other favorites include Bedtime for Bear, Rainbow Fish, and Zog and the Flying Doctor are always go-to picks for her).  
  9. Who is your best friend: Shea (These two are the cutest friends.) 
  10. What is your favorite breakfast: banana bread and bacon 
  11. What is your favorite lunch: macaroni and cheese 
  12. What is your favorite dinner: spaghetti and meatballs 
  13. What is your favorite snack: cheese-its  
  14. What is your favorite dessert: chocolate cake   
  15. What do you sleep with at night: mommy and daddy, but sometimes my minnie mouse 
  16. What is your favorite thing to play outside: ride my bike 
  17. What do you want for your birthday dinner: this girl has celebrated her birthday multiple times, and each time she had spaghetti and meatballs and chocolate cake. (three times in one week). 
  18. What do you want to be when you grow-up: just like daddy. (cue heart melting.)  
  19. Where is your favorite place to go: Disneyland or Switzerland. I can’t decide.  
  20. What is your favorite game: operation or playing family with sisters