Stargazing with Liam


It’s the little things, as they say.
This month my son has an ongoing homework assignment to track the stars. He has a little notebook which he carries with him to the park near our house. He brings along a pencil, stares for a bit at the heavens, marks things into his book, then returns home to add details with colored pencils.
I knew about this but wouldn’t have really been part of it if my husband hadn’t been out of town last week. Usually, it is my husband who goes with him. I’ve been totally fine with that, especially since star gazing sometimes means getting up at five am. But last week my husband was out of town and so I accompanied Liam to the park three different times within a twelve hour span.
It was unseasonably cold in Sacramento. We went out the first time and saw the rising stars in the east. Lit up Christmas trees could be seen through neighbors’ windows; the air smelled of people celebrating a new California law. A man walked by with his dog. The next time it was colder. I wore my puffy jacket and Ugg boots, and our breath came out like smoke. The stars had risen a bit higher in the sky. Liam pointed out The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia and the Milky Way. I told him I was grateful to be out with him on a cold December night, staring at the sky. “Everyone should stare at the sky,” he said. In the morning the alarm woke us. We bundled up and stumbled sleep-drunk into the street. Now everything was blanketed in frost. Our breaths seemed to crystalize. I know someone in Chicago or Detroit would laugh at me, but the cold went straight through the puffy jacket I bought years ago in Ireland, and I shivered maniacally. We laughed about my uncontrollable shivering. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he said, and I protested, happy. This was such a gift. These are the things our ancestors remembered were important. It made me grateful too. It was one thing to be shivering in the park, knowing that in ten minutes I would be back inside my warm house. I know there are those who do not have such a luxury, and my heart breaks. I think I would want to die. I don’t know what to do with these insights, I just know that I am grateful to that snowflake of a night.

On the Road


North on 5, once again. We have made this trip so many times. All the visits to Chico, all the years of meeting Tyler’s mother at Orv’s outside of Williams, where the line for the restroom was always five deep. Stops for gas in Dunnigan, burritos in Arbuckle. None of this new. Not the California people envision. No one has ever received a postcard from Zamora, California, and thought, “Man what would I give to live there.”
Once you get past Redding the landscape changes. This is the real Northern California—rain and fog, pine trees on the mountains shrouded in mist. Wet streets and tiny waterfalls in the gullies cut into the hills. Crows everywhere.
We pass The Basshole in Lakeshore, where I drank beers with friends the year I was 21.
Farther North: cars kicking up streams of water from the rain wet asphalt as we climb into the mist. Mossballs in the trees, a dead buck on the side of the road. The radio playing “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone” which seems wildly inappropriate. Snow in the hills, a wet black bag like a mangled crow against a chain link fence.
We are going to a yurt which I booked on Airbnb. The yurt is in the town of Weed, just in the shadow of Mt. Shasta. My husband has climbed the mountain 13 times and now he and my son have a plan to climb it again in May. My husband, who is deeply offended by climbers who talk about “Bagging that mountain” or “Making mother nature my bitch.” To him this is the worst kind of sacrilege.
If you look on Airbnb you’ll find this yurt and you can stay there. The owner made us feel so welcome and we were beyond comfortable. My son and I hiked and my husband and I hiked and the dog and I hiked and the DVD player was broken which seemed like the greatest blessing because for two nights we had nothing to do but sit by the fire and play board games in this warm and cozy yurt. During the day there was nothing to do but hike and write and drink tea and make fires in the fireplace. Sometimes it would rain and that was my favorite. The rest of my family drove to Bunny Flat but I was unwilling to get back into the car so instead I hiked and built a fire.
We stopped the next night in Chico, where my husband and I met. In one sense, you could say we met in Mexico or on the way to Mexico and in another you could say we met in Chico and either would be correct. We were both students at the college and members of the outdoors club called Adventure Outings, and when we met it was because we had both signed up for a three week camping trip through Baja. Anyway, now we were back in Chico and it was November and the trees were yellow and red. Shane rested while I took the kids to The Bear for lunch. We went to the Yoyo museum in the back of Bird in Hand and my son bought a yoyo and neon strings. We went to The Bookstore which is my favorite bookstore in California, at least, and we walked to the creek on campus where, one night, I’d sat with a friend (probably drinking contraband beer) when a little river otter or something rose from the water and walked onto the bank just beside us before disappearing into the water again.
Evening was TV in a hotel room.
This morning I received bad news from my mom. I called her from the road, because she had sent a text asking me to phone her. My mom was crying and I sat in something like shock for the rest of the drive. I am still waiting for the tears to come. But I am grateful for the wide open spaces that planted themselves in my body while on the road the last couple of days. There is room now for this grief. There is room again for whatever happens next.


A dark day. The sun has risen and animals are flittering about. I have never so badly wanted to be a dog, or a cat, or a cricket. Unaffected. This morning I, along with countless other parents, had to wake up and tell my child that the thing I swore would not happen, could not happen, happened.

My son is white, and probably straight, and he is terrified. I can’t even imagine how difficult this conversation was for so many of my friends. My son is worried that his friends will be deported. He is worried about what this means for his future. He has watched the debates, and while he doesn’t understand some of it, he knows what Trump has, to this point, represented. Hatred. Racism. Misogyny. Homophobia. Bullying.

It’s confusing. In fairy tales, terrible things happen, terrible people make terrible decisions, but in the end, love trumps hate.

In kid movies, there is so often a bully. Some kid spewing his hate and terrorizing the neighborhood. The hero finally stands up to the bully, and the bully sulks away, tail between his legs. Because love trumps hate.

On the playground, there are real bullies. My son has stood up to them. He has stood up for the children who are different from him. He has a good heart. He knows he is doing a good thing. So this election, it just doesn’t follow the simple rule of cause and effect. Bullies don’t win. Love does.

This morning I, and so many of us, were called upon to answer some really tough questions. And I think a lot of us had the same questions as the children did. And yet we did it. We got through it. We talked about vigilance, about continuing to stand up to bullies, about how important love is, especially now.

And then our children went off to school and we cried. I did. I couldn’t keep my shit together during yoga, and the lovely instructor silently brought me tissue.

I think it’s okay if we mourn for this day. It’s good for kids to know that we too cry, we too grieve, we too get angry. But the sun will rise again tomorrow, and the children will need role models.

I went to volunteer at my son’s school today, and I was struck by how the children, some of whom still wore “I voted” stickers, were able to persevere. To play. To laugh.

We are entitled to our grief. But we also need to count our blessings, and at least in my case, my children are the most beautiful blessings I can imagine. So tomorrow I vow to be a role model for my children. I won’t mourn for the death of America. America isn’t dead—I can see it in the faces of the children. Tomorrow I will wake up and be present. I will be in the moment. I will laugh again. And I will stand up for the people who are different from me. I will stand up to the bullies. The children, our future, are looking for a hero. And they are right to know that we are going to win.

A Witchy Little Tale for Halloween

There is a section in When My Heart Was Wicked that goes, “I have these images in my head. Memories, dreams—whatever they are, they seem real. Then again, I dreamed for many nights as a little kid that a witch sat beside my bed as I slept. In that dream, I would wake up and she would be looking at me, not saying anything. She scared me. I never found out what she wanted. That felt real, but it had to be a dream, so maybe these other things were dreams too.”

The truth is, this section was lifted from my own life, from my own childhood. Countless nights, a witch, watching me sleep. An unsettling dream.

My father still owns that same home; my old bed is still in the same spot. I have slept in it while visiting, along with my two children. One day we were talking about reoccurring dreams, and my daughter told me, “I keep having a dream at grandpa’s where a witch is sitting by the bed, watching us sleep.”

What do you think about that?

The Wisdom of Angela Chase

So I don’t remember who I am anymore. What moves me, what makes me swoon. I have heard this happens to some mothers. That we put so much focus into the lives of our small children that when they grow to a certain age, we find that we are standing there alone, so distant and removed from the person we used to be. A chasm separates us, and even if we could cross it, we wouldn’t be able to stuff ourselves back into that old body. It’s been too long.

Fifteen years ago, I had just finished grad school, and I was in the process of looking for my first grown-up job. I had been nanny, hostess, waitress, cashier, secretary, barista, and bookkeeper. Briefly I had worked as one of those office muffin people, like the guy from Love Actually or Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors. I had been a student my entire life. I was in love with the man who would become my husband, and I think I must have been happy.

We saw Romeo and Juliet starring Claire and Leo and after it was over, we went to the cemetery and drank wine and talked about Shakespeare and love. We cranked the music and danced in my bedroom and burned candles while we slept, which one night resulted in a small and manageable fire. I painted his fingernails and he gazed at me with gentle lion eyes. Mornings, I wrote aubades from my bed, which was only a mattress on the floor. Everything was shimmering and everything was alive. This, of course, is youth.
I was listening to a lot of Radiohead. I was waitressing at a really posh senior care center in Chico. We bought a 1971 Volkswagen bus and camped whenever we could. I was an outdoorsy emo punk rock flower child poet. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to learn everything and read everything and write about it. I hiked to the tops of hills and dove into icy streams and I felt everything. Like my skin was electric.

There’s this line in an episode of My So-Called Life. Angela says in a voice over, “People alway say you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster or something. Like you can know what it is, even.” When I was young, I heard that line and thought, I don’t have inner dialogue like that. I want it. I had been walking through life in a sort of a haze, thinking constantly, yes, but not philosophizing. Not getting down to the marrow of these thoughts.

And so, thanks to Angela Chase, I started thinking about my thinking. I started paying attention to things. I like this song, but why? I like this flower, how would I describe it to someone who couldn’t see? Things like that. I asked someone to give me a word and I would write a poem about it. I carried a notebook everywhere and I wrote constantly. I started grad school, wrote a bad novel. Graduated, and a month later, learned I was pregnant, which was lovely and much desired news. I had babies. I held them. I made baby books and I wrote in them. My life was full and I was happy.

But somewhere along this beautiful heartbreaking path of raising two beautifully alive children, I have lost that old inner dialogue Angela Chase helped spark. I gave everything to my kids, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I played with them, I read to them, I crafted and cooked and talked and joked and cuddled with them. I wanted to be with them as long as they wanted me around. I was a stay-at-home mom and I am forever grateful that I was afforded such a luxury. And I still read. I still wrote, a little (although it wasn’t until my son started first grade that I felt able to write anything substantial, like a novel). I still talked with friends and drank wine and saw art and listened to music. But somewhere along the way, I tuned myself out. These days, I mostly go through the motions.

I want to fall in love with life again. October is the best month for falling in love. I want to talk about things and write tiny poems and become breathless when beauty presents itself. Maybe I am romanticizing my former self (and that is a distinct possibility) but I miss that feeling of being alive.

Last weekend my family and I went to visit a friend at his cabin in Truckee. The air was crisp and autumnal at that elevation. I brought along some poetry to read and and a notebook. I wished so badly to be happy. I fell asleep against a rock at the water’s edge.

Since then, I have been having language-driven ideas as I fall to sleep, and I force myself to get up and write them down. This is when I know the muse is present. The pieces are in place. I breathe in, I breathe out. Come on, world. I am ready for some magic.

Taking Stalk

Something terrible happened to me recently: I forgot what I had ever loved about writing. I’d had to wrap my heart in gauze and I forgot to cut away holes so it could breath. I had a dark night of the soul; I had to ask myself, Is this something you can truly let go? My body responded with a kind of shock. The answer that came was no.
So I’ve been gentle with myself, and tapping into my sense of curiosity. What is bringing me back? (so slowly, but like awakening from a dream):
poetry. images of dark things. yoga.
The other day I had one of those moments where I had to keep pulling things from the shelves. Hamlet! That moon book! Plath! The tarot deck! The perfume Adrienne got me that smells like a fairy tale! I love when that happens. When all of the sudden we are reminded everything is connected by a web of poetry and art. I place little jewels on each strand and write things into notebooks that I will maybe later incorporate into a novel.

I am moving slowly these days. Savoring.

In college, I had an assignment once to partition off a square of earth and spend an hour peering into it. I was given a ruler, some pin-sized stakes, and a bit of string. I don’t remember the dimensions, but the space was about the size of my two hands, stacked thumb to pinkie with both hands showing. What a luxurious gift to be given. I was eighteen years old.

I hadn’t been an imaginative kid. I didn’t build fairy houses or have tea parties with my stuffed animals. I stayed indoors, reading books, writing lists into notepads. I was terrified of spiders and other bugs, and I didn’t like playing outside. Anyone who knows me now would probably be surprised to hear this, as nature is my temple; I have for many years worshiped Grandmother Spider and have even come to a place of peace with ticks and tomato hornworms, but in those days, there was a fear I can’t explain.

So my childhood memories aren’t of lounging on the grass, watching snails and birds. They aren’t of me sitting and letting my mind fill with ideas, as if in a meditative state. When I was sitting, I was reading, or I was in class, or I was making a list.

Now I was being offered this quiet, delicate time. No distractions—this was in the day before cell phones and iPods. It was me, my partitioned piece of earth, and a notebook, in which I had written: Lab #4.

In high school I had a similar assignment, I realize now. I was taking Chemistry in summer school as the result of having had irreconcilable differences with my sophomore year Chem teacher and dropping his class halfway through. Summer school happened to be pretty fun—I met some great kids from neighboring schools and the teacher was interesting, captivating, and, unlike her predecessor, not a racist. The first day, she gave us an optional extra credit homework assignment: watch a candle burn. So we were to light the candle and observe it for fifteen minutes and take notes on what we saw.
I remember writing about the flame: how it went from orange to purple, and the way the wax pooled and dripped…

And now I am reminded of another college assignment…

I don’t actually remember the name of the class, but I remember the teacher. She was smart, a feminist, and she liked to lead conversations regarding racial stereotypes in advertising and popular culture. One day she brought a bag of Hershey’s kisses to class. The assignment, essentially, was to learn how to slow the fuck down. We were each given a chocolate, and we spent a good ten minutes examining it, still in its wrapper. Then we were to smell it. Then unwrap it. Then smell again. Probably a half hour passed before we were invited to put the chocolate on our tongue. We were being asked to experience the chocolate. And if you could spend so much time on a Hershey’s kiss, imaging how much time you could spend on a walk around the block, or observing the weather?

I am grateful to these teachers, to their assignments. I am grateful because I learned that the mind does not always have to be racing, rabid monkey to the next thing. Sometimes the body needs something else. A book of poems. A square of earth. A candle, lit, in the dark.

Blank Character Chart for Kids

I made this simple character chart for a group of 10 year olds. Feel free to use it!

Character Chart



What does he/she look like:
Any scars or missing limbs?

What is his/her favorite color?

Does he/she prefer the beach, the forest, outer space, the desert? Other?

What does he/she dream about?

Does he/she have parents? Siblings? Fish?
Favorite food?

Best friend?

Worst enemy?

If he/she had a motto, what would it be?

What color is his/her room?

What is his/her biggest secret?

What is his/her biggest fear?

What does he/she want?
What is standing in his/ her way?
What animal would he/she take to Hogwarts, if any animal at all was permitted: