The magic’s not in the mania



If for you the meaning of “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” means you’re locked in the bathroom hyperventilating because you don’t have time for the merry little meltdown you’ve been working toward, this one’s for you …

It’s just Christmas. There’s really no wrong way to do it. Really. As my friend pointed out this morning during one of our mental health checks: "this isn’t the only Christmas they’ll have.” Meaning, you don’t have to get it all done this year. If it helps, try making a list of all the things you wanted to do but didn’t as a way of getting it out of your head. Now, you’re looking at what I call my “Maybe next year” list. Essentially, this is a perpetual list of crafty projects, baking, tokens of gratitude, Christmassy activities and a few random things that don’t get done, like getting a star-topper for our tree. Again. Whatever. It’s still Christmas in two days and this is me letting go of the sinking ship that is holiday stress. I can’t find Sam’s mittens. So, we’ll have to buy new ones on the road. Or he’ll have to learn to rub his hands together fast and blow on them. Or whatever. “Find gloves” is officially off my list. As well as 29 other things I can’t possibly get done between now and tomorrow morning so I might as well stop pretending and start enjoying the magic that is joyful anticipation. I know I’m not alone – which is why I’m leaving “encouraging blog post” on my list.

Remember this: the memories that matter, the moments that we remember, the magic … you can’t make those – they just are. Take a deep breath, be patient with others—and more importantly yourself—remember the whole point of the season: love, grace, gratitude, celebration of blessings … and if you’re the Jesusy type, there’s that. (But even if you’re not the type, despite my reluctance I have become one, I think celebrating the love, grace and gratitude counts for a lot!)

If you’re still with me, I’d like to invite you to take a moment to spread a wave of grace and allow some to wash over yourself. You deserve it.

Haven’t finished everything “in time”? Forgive yourself. Someone being an asshat and ruining your celebration plans? Do not let them. Their assiness is their business. You allowing it to ruin your holiday is yours. Has someone disappointed you? Let yourself get over it. Today. Why not?

Life is short. Be good to yourself. And each other.

Merry Christmas.

Blessings to you and yours! You taking the time to check in and share my notes and your comments means the world to me. xo

Nat signature 

p.s. this is a photo of my family circa 1978. Thank you Mami and Tati for everything you did to make our memories of Christmastime so special. Vesele Vianoce!

Independence day message

What? No Meatless Monday post? No Friday Favorites? Whoops. Another week over already? This conversation will put this last week in perspective for you.

Me to Matt this morning: I feel kind of lame. I think we're the only people in the country with no plans to celebrate the 4th. Yet, I don't really care. You?

Matt: Not at all. I'm celebrating my independence by getting my house put back together.

Note: Many, many miles to go but we're gaining speed in the right direction.

For the rest of you in the United States celebrating Independence Day, here's a word of advice from a friend of mine who knows: If you truly want to celebrate your independence this weekend, don't drink and drive.



What she didn't know

My friend Sharon died before I could tell her that I loved her.

I hope she knew it anyway. What she didn't know is that her words of advice carried me through some of my darkest hours living at the Coast.

My friend Sharon, a fellow Pisces, left me speechless more than once. She had a way of saying things that made you cock your head to think. Subtle and sharp, at once. I remember walking into her house one afternoon to find her ripping pages out of her journal and throwing them into the fire.

What the hell are you doing?

Burning my morning pages.


Sure. Who's going to want to read this after I'm gone.

Wow. We are so different.

She was a Wisconsin-born European. She didn't seem to care what everyone else thought. And she didn't give a shit about the local leash law. She had a way of enjoying ordinary moments and creating extraordinary ones. She didn't hesitate to call you out on the lies you tell yourself. In fact, around Sharon it was hard to be anything but yourself - and not just the best parts. She told the truth about things and used her hands when she talked. She was a healer and yet suffered herself. She was as strong as she was fragile.

We got word she was sick. I took Sam to visit, sure we'd be back again soon. Maybe we could come over and read to her, I thought to myself as we left that last afternoon. Sam, as I may have shared, seems to have been here before. He seemed to know something I didn't that afternoon. He was so wiggly all day but when Sharon wanted to hold him he simply sat still on her lap and looked out the window with her. She told me he was beautiful and to enjoy him. Not to worry about the details. Not to rush. And I trust those words will carry me through darker hours to come.

We were going to visit again soon. I planned to bring chocolate. Instead, I made brownies to serve on a fish platter in honor of her, my fellow Pisces.

In defense of the Christmas Letter

I love checking my mail. Always have. But I especially love it this time of year because this is when I'm most likely to get actual mail. Not bills and crap from companies I've never heard of but real, juicy mail with the handwriting of people I adore on the envelope. And if I'm really lucky? Pictures!

When I found out I was pregnant I made a list of things I was most excited about. Getting to write an annual Christmas letter made the top 10. Sure I could've done one before I had a kiddo but Sam gives me more writing material.

I know the Christmas letter gets mocked but I - for one - love, love, love them. I practically skip to the post office (well, now I just kind of limp on in with the sciatica and the baby bjorn) in anticipation of getting a card with news from friends and pictures of loved ones.

Thinking of writing your own? Consider a few of my tips on how to write a good Christmas Letter:

Unless you're writing to people who've never met you, we know you're not the Cleavers for Christ's sake so cut the crap and tell us what really happened this year. Sure it's natural to want to focus on the highlights but really an all-around banner year? Who are you kidding?

On the flip side letters that list medical maladies don't work either. We don't really want to know about every ache and blister you've had since we rung in the last new year. I'm all for keeping it real, sister - but go ahead and spare us the contents of your medicine cabinet. 

Sharing the year's highlights isn't being braggy. Being braggy is braggy. Don't do it.

We love to hear your good news. However do not, for God's sake, reveal any family secrets (good or bad) in the letter. I was once at a close friend's house admiring her collection of Christmas greetings and was just at a really juicy part from her mother-in-law when my friend leaped in front of me and said, "Wait! I have to tell you something!" Too late. I got the great news of her pregnancy from the card hanging on the wall. They just weren't planning to tell everyone yet. So, I repeat, skip the secrets, especially if they aren't yours to tell!

And remember when I said to keep it real? I didn't mean veiled references to the ways your children have disappointed you. Avoid sentences like: So-and-so still isn't married or So-and-so is still finding themselves. We all know what that's code for.

If that's too much for ya, I suppose a simple Merry Christmas and best wishes for the new year will do. And a picture. Pictures are good.

p.s. Before you check your mailbox for this Yuletide opus of ours, you should know it won't be arriving in this year's mail. But it's not that I'm behind or anything. I'm just planning ahead for next year!

To Veterans everywhere - thank you.

Honoring Veterans today ... it seems strange to say "Happy Veterans Day" because really, what's so happy about remembering the horrors of war? One of the hardest things for me about being a liberal against the war is the assumption by many that I'm somehow against the soldiers. Not so. Not so at all. I respect and appreciate their service. I also am in awe of the sacrifice they've made, and not to mention what their families have given up. For a lot of us it's almost like the war is a reality TV show portrayed on the evening news. For military folks, it's missing the birth of their babies, their children's milestones and the warmth that comes from waking up next to the person you love. For them, it's seeing things and living through experiences they'll never forget - though they'll try for the rest of their lives.

There are mothers and fathers, husbands, wives, children and friends of soldiers all over the country setting their table for one less every day, answering knocks at the door with held breath, waiting, hoping and praying for the safe return of their loved one. Regardless of my personal feelings about the war itself, I DO respect these sacrifices. And today is a reminder to say Thank You. Out loud. To those who have served our country recently and in years past. Because it's not over for them. Just because they don't talk about it doesn't mean they don't want their efforts acknowledged. A soldier's service doesn't end the day they are discharged. It's forever.

So, to all of you who've served our country to protect me and the people I love:

Thank you.

Because you can

Last week on NPR I listened to an interview with BBC correspondent in Tehran for the past 3 years, Frances Harrison. She said conditions have gotten worse, particularly for women, under the current Islamic government. For a brief period, she reported, women were allowed to wear colored head scarves. And sandals without socks. But, since a crackdown in April on dress codes, police have been filling buses with improperly dressed women. I decided to put more color into my clothes. Because I can. So if you have a scarf hanging in your closet you'd like to wear more often, an audacious piece of jewelery you worry is just "too much" - wear it. Wear it because you love it. And because you can.

Move-in Ready?

So when you think "Move-in ready" you're probably like me and imagine that all you'd have to do upon purchasing this "move-in ready" house is exactly that: move your stuff in and unpack. Right?

No. It turns out move-in ready is a relative term and can NOT be counted on when buying a home. We looked at a couple more houses last week. When I finally find this damn house I'm already flustered because it took me two hours to get from home to Oregon City. How are you city people ever on time?! Anyhow, Matt has already done the tour and takes me around real quick so we don't miss our next appointment. The house is awesome. On the outside. But on the inside, funny thing. Listed at 1900 square feet, I'm expecting it to be pretty roomy. No. Half of that square footage is the unfinished attic and basement. The kitchen, however is pretty cool.

"All the appliances are included," the agent says as I'm admiring the brand new stainless steel refrigerator. Appliances. Plural. That's what's wrong.

"Um. Where is the stove?"

"Well, we were just talking about that. There doesn't appear to be a stove."

"Where is it?"

"The owner used a Coleman for cooking."

"A Coleman. Like camping. That won't work!" Sorry, did that sound bitchy? It's just that if I was going to live like that, I'd pitch a tent and since I'm here to buy a HOUSE, you can assume, Mr. Agent Man that I'm going to need some basic things. Like a stove.

"So, if there was a stove. Where would it go?"
"Well ... we were talking about that, too." Maybe less talking and more doing? "I suppose you could wall off that door and put it over there? And then you'd just have to make another entry point into the bedroom."

So, how is this house move-in ready, exactly? I didn't say that to the agent but I muttered about it all the way to the next house. Which was actually pretty decent. But that's a lot of money for just decent. Looking at that house was proof that it helps to have two people looking together.

"What do you think?"
"Well, besides the fact that the closets completely suck, where would we eat?"
"Huh. You're right, there wasn't a dining room was there?"

And that won't work because sitting down together for dinner is an important part of being us. Which might make my parents laugh because sitting down for dinner together was huge at our house growing up. At about 13 though, when I had very important phone calls to take, I thought it was the stupidest thing ever! Sitting down together and talking, I'm sure! But in retrospect, it's one of my favorite things about how my parents raised us and I intend to continue that tradition in my family.

So, once again, result from that round of house hunting: "Next!"

House Hunting

Lesson one in house hunting: Nothing is as it first seems.

For instance, you have to actually drive by the house in question to make sure that it really is in a "wonderful" neighborhood because while you're picturing parks and swing sets, they mean, "Hey, if you want to buy a car, you just have to walk next door! And if you're craving a Big Mac, it's right across the street." This one house sounded great, had most of what was on our list, so we did our drive by and were surprised to find it shared a fence with the local Honda Dealership. Can you imagine hearing this all day long: "Jimmy, call on line one. Jimmy, line one." or "Roger to parts, please. Roger to parts." No thank you. The next house sounded so perfect, and it was at first glance. Then I looked up. Cool, we wouldn't have to buy night-lights because we'd be living right under the Golden Arches. Next.

The first house we actually looked in was also quite promising. A "charming cottage" in fact. Cute fenced yard, white picket even! Then, I looked left. Auto parts junkyard. Then right, tagging on the fence. The tagging itself can be painted over, I understand. But odds are whoever tagged it had a gun in their waistband causing their pants to slip down their cracked out self. What the hell, we're here, let's take a look. I loved this agent's strategy of waiting until we hesitated over something before making us aware of the heavy duty issues. Example: Matt started eying a dip in the floor in the kitchen.

"Oh, that's where the oil tank is buried."
"He's going to have it decommissioned." I start backing toward the door as I'm not stupid and now that this should have already been done and is not something that will happen by say, oh any time soon. But Matt wants to see the basement. Where we find standing water. It is brown.

"Oh, he's going to replace the sewer pipe."

"Hmm. Any idea when he plans to do these projects?"
"Oh, as soon as there's an offer."

Well, it won't be our offer, I'm thinking as I climb back up the stairs silently hoping Matt doesn't see more potential here than I do. I get a little nervous as he's talking with the agent on the way out about maybe coming back some time to take a look under the house.

"Why the hell would you go under the house when what we've seen inside is enough to know we are not living here?"

"I was just being polite."

"Okay. Next."

Just like me

Word Count: 24,616

So I'm on the edge of a mental breakdown and trying to figure out why and suddenly it occurs to me that it is just like me to decide to find my birth mom and write a novel in a month. And also sound the alarm on my approaching deadline to accomplish my annual goal to organize everything.

Also I am getting so frustrated at work and so much of it I can't post about here, but one thing I can say is that I am sick of our office being the junk drawer of the school. Don't know what to do with this pile of crap? Oh, send it to the office, they'll figure it out - or trip over it for two months. Oh, don't know how to deal with this kid? No problem, send him down to the office. Again.

After staring at the paperwork to send back to the investigation lady for a couple weeks, obsessing about how to answer the questions, I finally sealed the envelope tonight. I can't believe it sat on my desk for so long. Then again, I've been busy. And a little scared. This is potentially a big ass can of worms.

Remarkable Response

You know what kind of person you want to be, right? But when will you let yourself be that person? It's like one of my favorite posts of Rosie's where she is looking at a picture of herself as a little girl and and wonders if she's doing right by her. I watched a Dateline episode this weekend that just stunned me. It was an interview with the parents of Emily Keyes, 16 - the girl who was killed in the school shooting in Colorado last month. I wish everyone could've seen it. It was a truly remarkable response to the reality of their daughter's murder. In our sue-crazy culture to find a pair of parents who can respond with such generosity and grace to the tragedy leaves me shaking my head and deciding to start living up to who I am in my heart. Today.

So they're clearly devastated as they're describing the day's events, yet they still have the presence of mind to respond, "it doesn't matter" when they asked what they think about the murderer (who killed himself immediately after killing Emily). Essentially, they said it doesn't matter. It's a waste of energy to dwell on it. How amazing is that?

After hours of this psycho having the girls hostage, in the face of an ominous threat that something was going down at 4 p.m. the local Sheriff - Fred Wegener - made the call to send in the SWAT team. The gunman still had two of the seven hostages. One was saved. The other was killed. The Sheriff talked about how he will have to live with that call and the what-ifs for the rest of his life. But the girls parents immediately hugged him and thanked him for what he'd done to try to save their daughter. No second-guessing, no what-if game, no blaming. Just sadness, grief and a message of peace. This is what they asked of us: go about your day performing random acts of kindness to counter the random act of violence that took their daughter from them.