About Me

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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Our house

We found this house a year ago. I keep thinking about that as I look around at the trees with no leaves, at the flowering camellia, at the abundance of clover. Of course it doesn't look the same as when we first saw it because our eyes have changed. We live here now.

I found out I was pregnant for the second time in November 2013. Our older twins were not quite six months old. We found out it was twins again in early December. We were freaked out. My husband decided we should buy a new house. I had never bought a house before and though I very much wanted to move out of Martinez, it was hard to imagine a move with two small babies and a pregnancy. Plus, babies are small. We wouldn't need more space right away. I also had not quite worked out where I wanted to live. I say "I", not we, because I was the one with the problem. The one who yearned to be closer to the city. Closer to my friends and my family, closer to an urban lifestyle, closer to someplace with an edge. Away from the suburbs. My wonderful friend who lives in Oakland kept sending me links to great, fixer-uppers near her and I would admire them. The money meant nothing to me. . not because money was no object but because I have just never had a good sense of the cost of things. Living in San Francisco for most of my adult life, I was used to paying $1500 a month in rent for a one-bedroom apartment with no parking. That was a deal because I knew the landlady. I also came into this marriage with debt, despite having no reason to be in debt aside from expensive tastes, a love of restaurants and a habit of buying plane tickets with only the slightest provocation. My husband had no debt except for the responsible adult kind--a mortgage. I'm lucky I had other attractive qualities to balance out my part of the package.

I looked at houses in Oakland and tried to figure out neighborhoods by mapping the addresses in context with my office. My husband looked at houses in Martinez, Pleasant Hill and Concord. I did not want to live so far out here. Didn't want to commit to it. But. We had talked about our dream houses and his had a pool with a diving board. Mine had a fireplace, which we could have found in many other cities. A pool was harder because we would need the space to build it. And ideally warm enough weather to actually want to jump into it. I mostly wanted to be able to walk to a cafe where I could people-watch.

One Sunday we loaded up the twins and went driving to check out the houses on his list. At that point I had already conceded that we would be staying close to where we were. In Contra Costa County, in the 925. Where we would be able to afford to buy a house and I would have the option of staying home with the kids. We saw six or seven places, each totally different in different neighborhoods. Some he went into while I sat with the kids, some we just looked at from the outside. We imagined our lives on those blocks, x number of minutes from the freeway or from Peets or from the movie theater. We drove on. I was scrolling through Zillow, looking at different options.

As we headed to the last house on our list I entered a new Search Nearby and a house with a 19,000 square foot lot popped up. That must be a typo we thought. Want to stop and look? Sure, why not. We missed the turn, heading up a road we'd driven down before on our way to the public pool in Concord. A u-turn meant waiting for many cars of oncoming traffic and we almost decided against it but instead swung around and turned down the street we were looking for.

The street is very long, with a speed dip and a yellow bike trail sign. We pulled up in front of the house and he got out to peer through the windows. He liked it. I liked it from the outside too. I called and left the realtor a message and we drove on to the final house. Ten minutes later as my husband checked out the inside of a small but pretty house I got a call back. The realtor could be there in fifteen minutes. Did we want to? Yes, please. We drove back, waited for him as we talked to the babies and changed diapers. And within an hour we were putting in an offer.

Wait, what? I mean, I was new to this whole thing but wasn't there usually more to it than this? It was magical. The house, I mean. I've written here about the courtyard. That in and of itself almost sold me. Walking into the front door really did it though. Rich, warm, shining wood floors and a high, pointed white ceiling. Light pouring in through large windows. Oh. I could live here. I didn't expect to find a place that felt like me out here. And it kept unfolding into dreams of a future that was suddenly actually possible to envision. For the first time since finding out about my second pregnancy I could see a life that did not make me feel full of panic. More than that, I could see four little kids running and hiding and seeking and playing together in these rooms, in these yards, under these trees.

Here we are, a year later. With twin daughters who are exactly the same age as their siblings were when we found it. Which is fun and funny because they seemed so big to us at the time. We laid Lily and Cyrus down on the carpet in what would be their room, what is now their room, and let them look around and take it all in. It seemed like they liked it.

I never thought I would live in the suburbs. Scratch that, I vehemently did not want to ever live in the suburbs. I love San Francisco. I love it with a physical ache in my heart that is like the love you feel for a person. When I lived there as an adult, almost every day I would stop and admire how gorgeous it was. I love the people, the energy, the food, the neighborhoods, the ocean. I love walking the streets. I love the parks, the sunny days when everyone is out soaking it up with every frisbee toss, picnic, outside beer, and bike ride in them. I miss it and I don't agree when people say "Oh, but it's so close".No one in San Francisco thinks Concord is close. Close is IN the city. Anywhere else is far.

All of that and yet, I am so happy here. Last night I changed out of my spit-up covered clothes and put on a slightly cute outfit so I could walk around the corner to a neighbor's house for a glass of wine and a jewelry open house. As I walked through the inky darkness, I smelled wood smoke and felt crisp, soft air against my skin. Two mornings ago I picked a tangerine off the tree in our backyard, peeled it and handed it down to my barefoot daughter standing in the long grass. She ate every juicy bite.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Finding strengths

It's been two weeks since I stopped working for pay. Life is very busy and very rich.

In the past two weeks I have injured four of my ten fingers. What in the world does that even mean? The left pointer finger smashed in the bathroom door, the right pointer fingertip cut on the foil of a container of formula, the right middle plagued by a horrible hangnail that throbs, and now the left pinkie sliced with a serrated knife while cutting a bagel on Sunday. Snapping up baby pajamas with four bum fingers is really tough. (P.S. Carters et all perhaps you could tone it down on the snaps. Do the jammies really need so many?) If this were all a dream I would look up the meaning of injured fingers on a dream interpretation website. Is there a life interpretation website? Perhaps life is trying to tell me to sit quietly holding my hands up like a yogi--safe and out of harm's way. That can't happen. This four baby scene is a hands-on situation.

I feel good. Creative and juicy. Tired but alive. The thing is, I like the purity of working hard. I liked it as a full-time employee and I like it as a mom. It's nice to pay attention to my babies all day, even if I am wiped out by the time my husband comes home. I work best when I'm working hard. For a long time I thought that meant something needed to be really difficult to be worthwhile. My oldest friend--as in, we have been friends for almost my whole life not that she is the oldest person I am friends with--has a similar approach to life. She and I used to meet for coffee or dinner once a month to talk about being a woman in the work world. About being a boss and how to do a good job. About the challenges and frustrations in our industries. She is a year older than I am and throughout our lives has been one step ahead which is nice. Nice to have someone to follow and learn from. She shared her a ha moment with me, about realizing that she kept putting up with things that were almost too much to take because when it felt hard it felt real. Ohhhhhh. I could relate. Me too.

We did some management training towards the end of my tenure in my old job. One aspect of the training was StrengthsFinder, a Gallup tool that helps you identify the things you do best. It's based on the concept that employees are happier and more effective when they are able to use their strengths every day. This is the kind of stuff that I have always loved. To find out about myself by reading or fitting myself into descriptions that someone else has written? Yes please! Writing that and rereading it makes me smirk. What a strange thing to like. Why let someone else define you? And yet it felt so reassuring to read a description I recognized. Yes! I am like that! Thank you for saying so.

Why bring this up? Because I am helping a young friend consider her college plans. I also recently met with another young friend, a college junior, to talk about her summer internship plans. These things are so exciting to me--getting to talk to young people about what they like, what feels right to them, what they want to do. I can see by their faces how hard these questions are to answer. I'm sure people asked me what I liked doing or what I wanted to do but when I was younger I saw that as a question with a right/wrong answer. I was afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to commit to something and then change my mind. Afraid to work towards something only to discover that eh, I don't like it. Now I see it as a thread to follow in the darkness. Think about what you like to do and then try to arrange your days finding ways to do that. Not because you win a prize for getting it right but because the prize for getting it right is doing something that feels good. Makes you feel smart, capable, like you're making a contribution.

Here are some things I like to do:

-Make decisions, particularly in high pressure situations
-Teach people how to do something
-Ask questions to help people specifically answer the question "What are you trying to accomplish here?"
-Explain something in a way someone can understand it
-Learn new things
-Speak Spanish
-Listen to people and help them feel heard

I also really, really love taking care of and spending time with my children. They light me up.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


So yes, I got laid off. We are okay. There are no hard feelings towards my company. I understand the business decision and I had a sense it was coming. When my husband and I went to the company holiday party back in December it felt a bit like an episode of "This Is Your Life". I started working there when I was twenty-six. The first holiday party I went to was at the Claremont Hotel in the Oakland hills. Grand. I was shy about who to sit with, who to hang out with. Seeing the head honchos out on the dance floor with their spouses made me smile. I loved my job. Over the years I attended many holiday parties. Planned some. Sometimes I was the young, wild, drunk coordinator dancing with my peeps to all the Top 40 hits. Other times I was a manager, not knowing quite how to mingle and making sure not to drink too much. There were many phases in between. Some years there was no party. December 2014 was a great party. Casino tables, food trucks, great music. People were laughing and having a blast. I had fun, learning to shoot craps with my husband and some work colleagues. One of whom I hired, one of whom I trained who is now a supervisor. I smiled, hugged, waved, ate, laughed. Watched. I didn't feel on the outside but I felt on the outskirts. That wasn't my main place anymore. Home with my kids is my main place. By choice.

Almost a third of my life was spent within the walls--physical, emotional and mental--of that place. I love what we do. What they do. I don't think I am done forever but who knows? Time will tell. There is more to write and more to think about.

We are not losing our babysitter totally or forever. That is not possible. She is in our hearts and we are in hers. We are a net for one another and that is not going away. Just changing. Stay tuned.


The nanny sits on the couch, a baby in the crook of her folded legs, another in her arms. She is a strong woman--her muscular legs swathed in sporty sweatpants. Her upper body is folded into a black soccer sweatshirt. She is dressed for comfort and for hard work. Her skin in smooth and rich--the color of almost-burnt caramel. Her hair is thick, black and pulled back into braids. There is a tiny gem pinned into one side of her nose and multiple earrings dotting both lobes. When she turns a baby around to pat its back, the flash of a tattoo shines from the inside of one wrist. If you asked she'd show you the other one--a key drawn onto the soft side of each forearm. They are bold and delicate. A cell phone nearby rings and beeps on and off throughout the day, the various threads and characters in her life stretching out to touch her, to ask questions, get comfort, exchange laughter or frustration or tears. She reassures, teases, scolds, directs. Rarely at rest. Her smile is clear as she looks down at the little ones.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

We interrupt this program. . .

On Tuesday I got laid off. Two hours later I smashed the bejesus out of my finger. The finger smash is an example of why I believe in God. There is a connectedness, an energy swirl, a call to be awake, to be true, to be touched by the people around us. All of this--the echo of something unseen that swells when I take a moment to be quiet and still--that is what God is to me.

I don't believe God smashed my finger--that's not how I think about this kind of thing. But here I am, on the flip side of a major life change and I have this painful, throbbing, red and purple fingernail that zings me every time it touches something. That finger touches lots of things. Each time I think one or several of the following:

"OW! That really hurts!"
"Whoa. I have no job."
"Man! I really slammed that thing hard."
"This is going to hurt for a while."

I appreciate the symmetry of the two events. And I am grateful for the invitation to pay attention. I was a part of that organization for a long time--three weeks shy of thirteen years. I actually felt physically different walking out the door. No more cell phone, no more laptop, no more key card. No job for the first time in many years.

I'll probably lose the nail. We'll definitely lose our baby-sitter--the person who has saved us these past many months as we've gone from two to four. 2015, like every other year, will be a year of change. It already is.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Old couch

Fawn-colored micro suede. Three square seat cushions, each paired with a squishy square pillow for backs to rest upon. This old couch has splotches, drips, spots, streaks; each mark a darker shade of brown on the original lighter brown. It's like a dirt tie-die, as though the fabric was pulled into little rubber bands, dunked into earth paint and then untied leaving an unpattern of brown on brown on brown. The arm rests roll up away from the seats--soft, fat Twinkie-shaped pillows. This old couch is long enough for a sleeping adult to fit comfortably stretched-out and the original cushions have been replaced with good-quality foam. It's a good sleeping couch. A good eating couch. A good living couch.

**This post is inspired by Fun-A-Day, a project with the following goal:

Start the year off with a month of creativity!

Make some art every day of January. That’s pretty much the only rule, though most people pick one particular thing to do every day, like take a photo, or write their dreams down, or make a drawing or a painting or song or a meal in a certain way – really anything. The only constraint is doing it every day, it can take as little or much time as you want. Then in February, everyone shows all the stuff they made in January, and we compare notes and have a cocktail. It’s a really fun challenge. And if you are shy about your artistic abilities, DON'T BE. This is just about having fun and doing a thing.

Friday, January 2, 2015


He was tall, the doctor. He swept into the room quietly, barely glancing up. There was almost no affect on his face but it was not unkind. A crisp white coat blazed over starched shirt and pressed slacks. Royal-blue letters stitched on the breast of the coat marked him as a member of the American Association of Dermatology. His hair was dark brown and started further halfway back on a smooth scalp. Skin pale, features non-distinct. With a murmured hello he set an iPad on the counter and turned towards it, away from the exam table. Long fingers typed quickly as he asked standard first-visit questions in a soft, voice without looking up. His manner might have been better-suited to a surgeon. Done typing, he turned back towards the table and performed an efficient, almost silent exam. Diagnoses made, he left quickly. After a few minutes, he re-entered the room. No eye contact. He looked over his supplies and announced that the numbing would be the only painful part. Stepping up to the patient reclined on the table, his hand steady, he held a needle to the site. "Ouchie," he said.

**This post is inspired by Fun-A-Day, a project with the following goal:

Start the year off with a month of creativity!

Make some art every day of January. That’s pretty much the only rule, though most people pick one particular thing to do every day, like take a photo, or write their dreams down, or make a drawing or a painting or song or a meal in a certain way – really anything. The only constraint is doing it every day, it can take as little or much time as you want. Then in February, everyone shows all the stuff they made in January, and we compare notes and have a cocktail. It’s a really fun challenge. And if you are shy about your artistic abilities, DON'T BE. This is just about having fun and doing a thing.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


The wooden gate comes to above waist-high on the body of a tall person. There's a new metal latch on top. The wood is splintery and weathered; the bottom of the gate doesn't quite clear the concrete underneath so opening it all the way makes a screech-drag. Inside the gate is an enclosed courtyard. If it were in Spain there would be clay pots of geraniums hanging all around the walls. And a cafe table. There is nothing on any of the three walls and no table. There is a square of uneven grass, large enough for two minivans to park tightly side by side. Spots of mud and clumps of dandelions peek out. Smooth concrete borders two-and-a-half sides of the grass--the straightaway the gate opens upon leading to the front door of the house, the side that creates a right angle to the left of that and the next side of the square if one were to make another left turn and keep walking counter-clockwise.The fourth side has three camellia bushes growing about gate-high, with a shorter wooden wall behind them. That's the only side that's not made up of at least some house. The side the front gate opens upon is concrete ahead and dirt behind. No bushes or plants grow there yet.

There are six doors and three gates. The front gate, the front door, a short black metal door with a latch, a pair of French doors, a door that looks exactly like the front door, a tall wooden gate and another taller than waist-high wooden gate. The metal door opens to the wood bin, the French doors to the living room, the front door's twin opens to the kitchen, the tall gate to a storage space between the carport and the house and the shorter gate into the carport where one minivan is actually parked.

There is a fireplace built into red brick between the front door and the French doors; the black metal door is built into the brick as well. The grate is bent and blackened. The brick was laid to create three step-like shelves that lead to a brick counter where one might place a tray of drinks, a plate of to-be S'mored crackers, chocolate and marshmallows. Or a cardboard box of used diapers lodged behind a half-dead plant.

-The End-

**I'm participating in Fun-a Day--an opportunity to create art every day during the month of January. My goal is to write at least one paragraph each day describing a person, place or thing. If you're interested in participating, let me know and I'll send you the link (because attempts to post it here aren't working!)

If you have suggestions for subjects for the month, I'd love to have them.