When I look at this image, the first thing I see is an old woman and it’s hard to see anything else.  But as soon as someone points out the young lady facing away from me in the same lines on the page, it is nearly impossible to see the old woman again. I am stuck with the view of the young lady.

In order to switch back and forth, I am forced to focus on certain parts of the image instead of looking at the whole. If I want to go back to the view of the old woman, I seek out the line of her mouth and raise my eyes up to her beak-like nose.

If I then want to see the young lady again, I look out to where her eyelash and nose are to shift perspective.  And as I do so, I am reminded that I possess the same power of perspective in my daily life.

Perception is reality, right? So if we’re in a challenging situation, or a pattern in our lives where our default perspective is glass-half-empty, it’s up to us to change the way we look at it. The trick is not to fill up the glass, but to see that it is half full instead.  We have to focus on certain parts of the whole that help us to see things in a different way, and it is important to teach our kids how to do this for themselves. As they hit adolescence and emotions become king, it can be really difficult to perceive things in a positive way, and once the negative patterns have been set, it takes work to change them.

If you have a teen who sees things in a decidedly unhappy way (I hate school, nobody likes me, I suck at math/history/lit), there’s no use challenging their perception. You will get nowhere by disputing their sense of reality or belittling their emotional responses, but you can help them turn the tide slowly by helping them see things in a different way. One powerful way to do this is to begin a gratitude practice (although you may not want to call it that).

When Eve started high school there were a lot of challenges and it didn’t take long for her to feel like a square peg in a round hole. After weeks of angst and hand-wringing (on my part), lots of conversations designed to build her up, and a few frustrated arguments, I decided to lead by example. Every night before turning my bedside lamp off, I texted Eve a list of three things I was grateful for and asked her if she had three to tell me about. I wanted the last thing in her mind before sleep to be happy.  She started out slowly, often able to come up with one or two things, but sometimes getting stuck. It took a week or so before she was texting me first and asking for my reply, and her list of things has deepened from “my soft pillow” to items like “teachers I can trust” and her own strengths. Her perspective is shifting right before my eyes and I would be remiss if I didn’t say that it has made a difference in her willingness to get up and tackle each new day as it comes, challenges and all.

It is a practice, and, like the effort it takes to focus my eyes on one set of lines or another in that drawing when I want to see a certain perspective, it is continual. The best part about it, though, for me, is the reminder that I am ultimately in charge of which lenses I see the world through – hope or fear, scarcity or abundance, gratitude or anger – and I hope that my girls are learning that, too.

What a week! I am putting the first touches on the website for my new project (that I’ve been hinting about here for a while, now), and it is a lot of work, but it’s really fun. You can visit the site here and give  me any feedback you have on what you see/what I might change or add.  The endeavor is called The SELF (Social-Emotional Learning Foundations) Project. The goal is to bring social-emotional education to tweens and teens at schools, after-school programs, and other places where they gather.  The curriculum is divided into six areas:

  • mindfulness
  • living with joy
  • dealing with stress, anxiety, and fear
  • developing self-worth
  • compassion
  • big questions of life
I’m offering one-off events as well as entire workshops based in these areas and hoping to do a few summer camps this year.  I will also facilitate groups for parents and others raising tweens and teens to talk about mindful parenting through this tumultuous time, again either as ongoing meetings or as one-off speaking/facilitating events.  Eventually, I hope to develop the curriculum so that it can be licensed to other people who want to teach it in their own communities.  Each focus area has discussion prompts, worksheets, activities, and guided visualizations/meditations in order to offer different ways of looking at the same ideas.  It is based in research I’ve done over the past eight years as I raise my own girls and strive to help them develop as whole human beings, and most of the meditations and worksheets are things I created to help my girls through challenging times. If you know of schools or other organizations (YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, etc.) who might be interested, please pass on the link to the website so they can check it out.   I am happy to travel in the Pacific Northwest to speak and teach.  
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Also, in case you missed it, I had a piece published this week that I have worked on for a while and I’d love it if you headed over to read it – especially if you know tweens or teens that have questions about sex and sexuality.  You can find it here.

Frankly, I would rather be neither of those things. I’m not interested in being the guy who flattens others, and I certainly don’t want to be smushed face-first against a windshield.  I know there are days when my kids feel as though those are the only two options, though, and you can’t blame them with all of the social dynamics they are navigating in high school and middle school.  But, as the Chief Positivity Officer in our household (well, Bubba’s pretty good at that, too, but frankly, I’m willing to be more in-your-face about it), I’m always looking for ways to re-frame their experience.  When you’re surrounded by kids jockeying for position, stressing about homework and quizzes and their place on the team all day long, it can be pretty easy to feel as though life is a constant fight.

Enter my new invention: The Appreciation Board.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not crazy enough to have actually called it that. Nor am I naive enough to have presented it in some sort of formal way. I simply commandeered the chalkboard in the kitchen and altered it a bit.  This is what it looks like now

 I kicked things off quietly by circling Eve’s name with a piece of white chalk and finishing the sentence. By the time everyone got home from school and work, the board read, “Eve is SO awesome because she is such a great friend.” Eve noticed the change when she came in for dinner and shook her head quietly. She is not a sentimental person (or at least that is the story she tells herself), so she looked at me, cocked her head to the right and rolled her eyes, BUT she couldn’t suppress the twitches at the corners of her mouth. It felt good to be called out for something like that. She was smiling despite herself.

I am an idealist, but I am also realistic, so I didn’t expect an instant sea-change.  I left the first message up for a few days and then quietly changed it again, this time circling “Dad” and reminding everyone that he is so great because he cracks us all up.  This time Lola was the first to notice when she came down for breakfast.  She immediately picked up the chalk and added some reference to an inside joke the two of them have, chuckling to herself.

On Saturday night, Bubba and I had plans for dinner with some friends, so we made the girls some food and headed out. I was hoping the two of them would have a relaxing evening watching movies and eating popcorn and talking about all of the things they don’t want their parents in earshot for.  When we came home around 11pm, we all headed straight for bed without doing much of anything but hugging each other goodnight. I was the first one up on Sunday morning and as I headed to the coffee maker, I stopped and saw the board.  It read, “Mom is SO awesome because she is such a good mom (and a good person in general).” What was so staggering is that it was in Eve’s handwriting. My cynic. My practical, non-sentimental kid took the initiative to write something that brought tears to my eyes. Of course, when I thanked her for it later in front of her sister, she denied writing it at all, but later she confessed that it was her and shrugged it off like it was no big deal.  Except that it was.

We have settled into a routine of changing the board every few days with someone spontaneously erasing and writing in some new lovely compliment for another member of the family.  Lola has been reminded that we love her adventurous spirit, and on Monday morning as she was packing up for a three day camping trip with her class, she wrote that she appreciated what a good sister Eve is to her. My heart melted.

I love this simple way of reminding our kids that looking for something positive about others is important and powerful. So often our communications at home are centered around things that have to get done or small conflicts we have with each other. Yes, we thank each other for small kindnesses (getting someone a glass of water when they’re already at the dinner table or carrying something up the stairs for them when their hands are full), but it isn’t often that we take the time to call out the things we really admire about each other and there is something really profound about seeing it in writing. To have someone take a moment to put into words how amazing you are is a pretty cool feeling.  Who knows, maybe this small boost of public appreciation is just enough to help carry us through stressful times of the day with a more realistic assessment of how awesome we really are.

In 2013 our beloved dog, CB, was diagnosed with melanoma. It was a stunning blow to all of us and even the veterinarian had a hard time with the test results. The tumor was in one of the bones that made up his first toe on the right foot and we made the decision to remove the entire toe as a precaution. The vet assured me that he would do just fine without it and she was right.  Following several weeks of healing, he was right back to bounding up the stairs behind me every evening on our way to bed, back to three or four walks around the neighborhood every day.  You would never know he was missing a toe.

Six weeks after the surgery, the vet said we ought to give him the once-over to see whether there were any more tumors or spots we needed to check out.  As a nearly-10-year-old purebred, he had sprouted odd bumps and lesions here and there that we hadn’t ever really thought twice about. I pointed out a few that were larger but didn’t seem to give him trouble or pain and we did biopsies.

Most of the remainder of 2013 was spent either in surgery or recovery for our poor boy after discovering another large tumor on his back that had wrapped around his spine.  I learned several big lessons from all of this, but the one that I hope to remember for the rest of my life is how to act when you’re diagnosed with cancer, just in case I ever am.

During the visits where we first attempted to figure out what was going on with CB’s foot, he was the same as ever.  Happy, goofy, loyal, exuberant. For as long as we have known him, he has loved people (especially children his height), other dogs, water, balls, stuffed animals, and food. He loves nothing more than a walk around the neighborhood and sleeping on the floor in the same room where there is a person. Any person. He hates being alone.  He follows me from room to room all day long as I empty the dishwasher, run downstairs to do a load of laundry, sit at the kitchen table to write for a few hours, walk out to the alley to dump the garbage, and head upstairs to shower. If we walk past a car with a door or the hatchback open, he sees an open invitation for a ride, even if he doesn’t know the owner of the car. He doesn’t mind going to the vet in the slightest because it just means that someone else is going to pet him and scratch behind his ears.

After his cancer diagnosis, nothing changed. He was slowed down a bit by the bandages and stitches and a little dopey from the anesthetic, but he wasn’t angry or morose or withdrawn. His tail still thumped on the hardwood floor in anticipation of some attention every time someone walked by. He still struggled to all four feet upon hearing the word “walk” uttered by anyone anywhere.  He still perked his ears up at the sound of Bubba locking his car at the end of the day before heading up the stairs to come inside.

Even after five surgeries in nine months and weekly visits to the vet, he was unchanged with regard to his most basic personality. He was a little more hesitant to get in the car because that generally meant we were headed for some more poking and prodding, but I can hardly blame him. I was, too, because for me, it generally meant a huge bill and more heartache.

I don’t know whether it’s because he has very little control over most of the aspects of his life that he has chosen to embrace the things that matter most to him – connection with his human companions and pleasure-seeking – or if it’s even a “choice” at all. I just know that watching him continue to be exactly who he always was even as physical parts of him got chipped away steadily through most of a year was inspirational and touching. He never stopped trusting me to change his bandages and give him pain meds. He never refused to get up and walk or greet me with a huge tail wag. He never lost his enthusiasm for meeting other dogs or new people or carrying some goofy toy around in his mouth. Through it all, he stayed CB. CB with melanoma, to be sure, but CB nonetheless.

If I am ever diagnosed with a disease that requires me to undergo painful or debilitating treatment and is potentially life-threatening, I hope that I can remember how CB handled it. I hope that I can make my way, one day at a time, through the treatments, rely on others to help me, and never let it change who I truly am.  I hope that I can continue to focus on the things that make me happy and let them make me just as happy as they always have even if I don’t have the same energy to enjoy them that I once did.

As of now, CB is mostly back to his old self. I suspect that he has more tumors growing that we don’t know about, but he is living a good life and is very active thus far. We have decided that five surgeries is enough for one dog and, while we won’t let him live with debilitating amounts of pain, we are going to let him enjoy the time he has left without anesthesia or stitches or casts.  Every morning when the two of us get up to start the day, I am grateful for the gifts he has given me, not the least of which is the constant reminder to just be who I really am as much as possible.

Oh, where to begin? Before I left for Europe three weeks ago, I had every intention of writing a blog post or two and staying (mostly) current on reading blogs, but that, it turns out, was wishful thinking.

Instead, here I sit at 1:30 in the afternoon the day after we returned home, having been awake since 5:00am (and continually looking at the clock in amazement that it isn’t MUCH LATER in the day yet), utterly overwhelmed as to what to say or whether to read every blog post I’ve missed in the last three weeks.

Eve is on the couch in the family room, iPad perched on her lap as she downloads apps she’ll need for school this fall, her eyes opening and closing slowly, slowly, slowly.

Lola is banging around in her room, rearranging things and listening to music and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before both of them slide into oblivion, given that it is nearly bedtime in Spain right now.

Bubba got up at 7:00 this morning and headed off to work and I have no idea how he is faring right about now, but I do know that after dinner tonight, we will have to go for a long walk in order to stay awake until a reasonable hour to go to sleep.

As for me, I feel better than I ought to (although I am currently sipping a triple-shot Americano, so there is that) except for the finger I’m fairly certain I broke tripping up the stairs in the 100-year old farmhouse we rented in the South of France.  I did it the first night and, while I was able to move it fairly well and the swelling was minimal, the knuckles turned nasty shades of green and purple and I had to break into the first aid kit to tape it to it’s neighbor for a few days.  Two weeks later, it still aches from time to time, radiating up my arm to the elbow and I felt like it was healing okay until I came home and tried to use it to type.

The trip itself was lovely and exhausting and eye-opening.  We spent four days in Paris at a hotel and had great fun navigating the Metro and re-learning lessons such as don’t ride the Metro during rush hour or you’ll be smashed up against a lot of hot, smelly people – some of whom are determined to pick your pocket or grab your ass. My rudimentary French held up quite well, and I was especially pleased when I could use it to threaten a young man who was harassing Eve quite aggressively along the Seine. My Mama Bear emerged and my French was apparently convincing as he moved away quickly, eyes open wide, head shaking. Eve was mortified, but I was very proud of myself for several minutes afterward.

The South of France was amazing and having a house made things so much simpler. Not being able to eat gluten in France is a little tricky, given not only the obvious (croissants, baguettes) but because nearly every French sauce is based on flour and butter. Having our own kitchen meant that we could hit the farmer’s markets and buy amazing, fresh food and prepare it ourselves.  It also meant that we weren’t held to the whims of the restaurants that don’t even open for dinner until 7:30. We were in a small village near Montpellier and most of the places that serve food only do so until about 2pm and then open again at 7:30 for dinner, which makes it a little tricky if you’re hungry.

Our last week was spent in a tiny beach town in Spain, about an hour from Valencia. Here, we had a house, too, but the kitchen wasn’t nearly as easy to use, so we ended up eating out a lot more.  We spent a lot of time at the beach, remembering that European beaches are much, much different than the ones we’re used to. Tops are optional, by noon it is wall-to-wall umbrellas as far as the eye can see, and everyone smokes everywhere.  The sand is one giant ashtray and if you’re sensitive to cigarette smoke, you’re out of luck.  The weather and the view was absolutely gorgeous and the food was good for the most part, although one can get a little tired of paella after a few days.  The one morning we went out for breakfast, we were surprised to see the locals drinking beer and wine at 9am. The wine they cut with fizzy water, but the traditional breakfast fare seemed to be beer, a plate of peanuts in the shell followed by a plate of what looked like tomato slices, lettuce, olives and pickled onions and a baguette filled with either prosciutto or fried pork rinds.  Never have I ever been so glad to be gluten-intolerant – it was the perfect excuse to avoid that mess!

One day we drove about an hour down the coast to a town called Denia where we stumbled upon an arena bounded on one side by the marina. There were four rows of rudimentary bleachers on the other three sides and the arena itself was simply dirt. Inside were perhaps 150 locals, mostly young men 30 and under, although notably, there were some young women and one woman who looked to be around 50. One at a time, an angry bull was loosed into the mass of people whose goal was to entice the bull to chase them and fall into the water.  It sounded perfectly awful, but I confess it was a bit like watching a horrible car accident and I took pleasure in cheering the bull on as it herded entire swaths of idiotic young men into the water and stopped short itself.

As adventurous and fun as the trip was, we were all ready to come home and thrilled to be back in our own beds, cuddling with our pets, and eating our own food.  Over the next few days, we’ll settle in to the right time zone, clean clothes, and giving each other a little more space. I’m looking forward to wrapping my head around the writing projects I have to get done and writing a more substantial blog post. My attention is caught by the violence in the Gaza Strip and the recent Supreme Court decisions, but I don’t have the mojo to delve in quite yet.

For now, it’s just good to be home.

The past couple of weeks (and the next week or so, as well) can only be characterized as volcanic. Most of the time, my life moves along at the same pace, even with minor changes in routine, and while I know that time is marching on and things are changing incrementally, imperceptibly, I have accepted that one day I will look back and be astonished at how far we’ve come from one place or another.

And then there are times when it feels as though I am lost in an unmanned capsule hurtling through space at the speed of light en route to a destination I knew about but somehow didn’t realize was so close.

Eve graduated from 8th grade last night. After four incredible years at my favorite middle school on the planet, she is done.  We watched her play basketball for four seasons, learn to tap into her own unique talents and tendencies to develop into a strong leader, forge friendships with a diverse group of girls who make her laugh and cry, and I knew this day was coming, but like these things do, it happened slowly and then instantly. She is so ready to move on to the next chapter, and I am so glad I have the next two and a half months to get more mentally and emotionally prepared for it. She likes to torture me by saying things like, “You know, Mom, I can get my driver’s permit in less than a year if I want.” For my part, I continue to remind her that we live in the city and there’s a bus stop half a block away if she wants…

She was home yesterday when a friend came to have lunch with me and we invited her to join us.  At first I was afraid she might be bored with our conversation, but I needn’t have worried.  Somewhere along the way she has grown into her aspirations of confidence and independence and she was a lively and appropriate part of our visit.

Tomorrow, Lola turns 12. When she got dressed for last night’s graduation ceremony and appeared in the kitchen ready to go, I noticed how long her legs are getting and how the roundness of her cheeks has melted away as she heads inevitably toward teenagerdom.  She still loves watching SpongeBob Squarepants and snuggling with me on the mornings that I wake her up for school, but she is following her sister’s example of spending more time in her room alone and asserting her ability to make more decisions.  The great debate this year revolved around which movie she and her friends would see this weekend, given that some parents are uncomfortable with the PG-13 content of the ones on their short list. It is such a challenge to watch these girls straddle goofy girlhood and the desire to be grown up, although I suspect it is more of a challenge to be living that dichotomy.

As for me, I am struggling to find some clear perspective on what my role is at this juncture.  I don’t want to hold on too tightly, clenching my fists around the golden threads that tether them to me, but I’m not ready to completely let go, either.  As I watched Eve and her friends glide across that stage last night to get their diplomas, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the hours of sleepovers and carpool driving I was lucky enough to be part of, privy to some inside jokes and candid conversations and the march toward young adulthood they each took in their own time.  I was moved to tears when I heard one of them acknowledge the strength of the foundation they have all given each other, a platform from which they can all leap confidently.  I am looking forward to two more years of that with Lola, starting with next week when I’ll chaperone their final trip of the year – a three day bike and camping excursion on a local island a few hours away.  I am excited to watch them challenge themselves physically and emotionally (and I’ve already told them they are responsible for pitching my tent since I’ve never done that in my life) and come together as a class to problem solve. I fully anticipate that there will be tears of joy and frustration and at least one girl will likely get shoved into the water, whereupon the rest will follow in solidarity.

In the abstract, I know what is to come for Eve as she heads off to high school, and I also know that these next four years will march by slowly and surely until there is another seismic shift forward that lands us squarely in the lap of high school graduation, amazed that it came so quickly.

I am a little sad, and very nostalgic, but more than anything, I am overcome with love for my girls and my fabulous husband and an intense feeling of gratitude that I am lucky enough to witness and be part of their lives each and every day as we move toward these momentous events in all our lives.

This banjo is sitting in the corner of my living room. For the first few weeks it was here, it sat inside its case because I wanted to make sure my head and heart were clear when I finally opened it up.  It belonged to my dad, and even though he died nearly six years ago, his wife only recently began packing up his things and figuring out what to do with them. She knew I wanted the banjo, but she couldn’t find it in any of the places she expected it to be and then one day, as she lie on her bedroom floor fishing underneath the bed for a roll of Christmas wrap, her fingers bumped up against the black faux-leather case.

I brought it home, having only unzipped the case once or twice to peek inside and marvel at its pristine condition (although I shouldn’t have, my dad was a Marine in every sense and took impeccable care of his things).  When I finally sat down in the living room to take it out all the way – Bubba off on a business trip and the girls away at school for the day, weak February sunshine filtering through the leaded glass windows – time stopped.  I don’t remember hearing anything from inside or outside the house; no dogs barking or airplanes soaring by, no hum of the refrigerator or the dryer. Of course, that is impossible, but I felt weighty and deliberate as I gently lifted it out by the neck and the body, careful not to smear fingerprints on the shiny chrome or twang one of the strings and break the spell.  Nestled beneath the banjo itself was a songbook and instructional manual by Pete Seeger and I nearly cried out when I saw it. Dad was a huge folk music fan. We grew up listening to the Kingston Trio and The Mamas and the Papas and Dad, while he couldn’t read a note of music, could hear a song once or twice and pick it out on the banjo or the guitar or the piano.  I don’t recall how often it happened, but I have fond memories of sitting cross-legged in the living room in a small circle with my sister and brothers while Dad taught us “Froggie Went-A-Courtin'” and “Greensleeves” and we had sing-a-longs.  I remember his long freckled fingers with the ridged nails and knobby knuckles picking and bending the strings in perfect time as our little troupe swayed back and forth singing with great gusto.

Laying the banjo across the couch cushions, I picked up the songbook and flipped through, hoping for some handwritten evidence of Dad somewhere within. His distinctive scrawl, always in pencil, shaped by the tremor in his hands, didn’t show up anywhere.  I was deflated.  I think I was looking for some message from beyond.

In the months since that day, I have walked by the banjo many times as it sits propped up in a box in the corner, neglected. I would love to learn how to play and have often thought about picking up that instruction book to give it a shot, but I’m both afraid and intrigued by what the music would do to me, what doors it might open if I do, indeed, figure out how to strum that banjo to play the folk songs of my childhood.  Occasionally as I walk past, I can smell the scent of cherry tobacco that came from Dad’s pipe and I am suddenly in the middle of that living room with the green shag carpet and the gold velour couch and swivel chair, Dad leaning back with the newspaper and the pipe smoke wafting gently to the flecked ceiling. My thoughts drift to the brother we lost during that time and I quickly shut the door of my mind.

Last Friday, Bubba and I took the girls out for dinner to a place in our neighborhood we’ve never been before. As we sat and waited to order, I became aware of the music playing and my heart swelled.  Throughout our fantastic meal, an entire Jim Croce album played, each song in the order I remember: Time in a Bottle, Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels), Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy), Bad Bad Leroy Brown, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, One Less Set of Footsteps, I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song.  The girls kept getting annoyed with me, alternately because I was singing along with the songs and because I got lost in my reverie and dropped the thread of our conversation.  I know they don’t understand the pull of this music for me and the melancholy memories, but it was such a lovely warm feeling to be surrounded by Dad, laughing at the absurdity and playfulness of some of the lyrics as well as the innocence and sweetness.

Even though Dad was not a musician by trade, nor would he ever have considered that a possible career, one of his purest joys was music and it was often the one thing that we could all agree on.  The soundtrack to our summer road trips featured folk artists as well as popular music from The Doobie Brothers and The Little River Band (Dad was not a Beatles fan at all). More often than not, we would pop in an 8-track, roll all the windows down and sing together in what we thought was perfect harmony. And it turns out, it was.

I have been lucky to see Maya Angelou speak a few times in my life. Three times, I have written about her on this blog. I truly believe her life is a precious gift for so many people and I wish her a very, very happy birthday.

Here are links to my previous posts about this amazing woman.

Of Storms and Rainbows

Thank You, Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is My Mother

Maybe it’s that I have a lifetime of memories that involve rain, having spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest, but I truly don’t mind the grey, wet days.

“I hate the rain,” Bubba grumbled as he pulled on his sneakers this morning and grabbed the umbrella on his way out the door for his morning walk.

“I know.”  There was nothing else to say. He knows the rain doesn’t bother me, even when I have to walk in it. Especially on a day like today, when yesterday afternoon brought brilliant sunshine and I was lucky to walk under a canopy of cherry blossoms with the dog, a pink carpet of tissue-thin petals lining the sidewalk.  Everywhere I went, I could smell the sweet perfume of daphne and I watched with a keen eye for the season’s first tulips in someone’s yard.

To wake up this morning to the sound of the water gurgling in the gutters conjured images of fat, shiny worms making their way across the pavement. I could hear the birds in the magnolia tree right outside my bedroom window and I always imagine they are celebrating the rain, anticipating puddles to splash in and the droves of worms coming out for an easy breakfast.

I sit at the kitchen table, the house silent except for the gentle swoosh of the dishwasher and there is something about hearing the movement of water as I watch the rain fall outside that feels cozy and comforting.  The dog, still damp from our morning walk, lies breathing heavily at my feet and out of the corner of my eye I catch sight of a huge crow descending into the yard.  My first instinct is revulsion.

Ugh, crow. I think. Why couldn’t it be a robin or that sapsucker I see every once in a while? But I catch myself. Why not a crow? Because they eat garbage instead of worms and bugs or seed?  Because they are big? Because their cries do not sound like songs to me? In that instant, I feel a softening and turn to watch the crow more closely.  A smile spreads across my face as I watch it hop with a little jaunt across the stones toward the planter. He has every right to be here, too.

My pants are speckled with raindrops, the bottom cuffs soaked from puddles we walked through this morning.  The cherry blossoms were raining down on us and are stuck to the sleeves of my jacket like translucent pink polka dots.  The flagstones are shiny wet and I can’t resist stepping hard into the puddle that forms right inside the gate, although I do look around to make sure none of the neighbors was watching.

When Bubba comes back from his walk and leans in for a kiss, I love the way his cheeks feel cold and damp against mine.  He smells fresh from the outdoors and I close my eyes and inhale deeply. This is the scent of Spring.

It is a glorious, sunny day here in the Pacific Northwest, the crocuses and daffodils are showing their gorgeous faces all over the neighborhood, and the dog had a much-needed bath yesterday for the first time in nearly nine months, so I’m feeling great! Plus, it’s Friday and we have a terrific weekend of great meals, catching up with friends, and lacrosse up ahead.

This salad is one of my favorite things these days. Often, I’ll find a recipe that I like and, over time, as I make it, I’ll add a few things or change a few things or tweak something. Not so with this salad. It is absolutely perfect as it stands. I keep shredded kale and brussels sprouts in the fridge along with a container of the dressing just so I can toss a bowl together at any moment. I’ve been known to have it for breakfast when I’m feeling starved and unimaginative.

These cookies are my new go-to snack or quick breakfast option for the girls. I have been trying to find more grain-free recipes, given our gluten-free life and the problems with eating too much corn or rice, and these hit the spot. I do often add a handful of mini chocolate chips to them (because, duh, why wouldn’t you) and I’ve played with different dried fruits. I love the tart dried apricots from Trader Joe’s (blenheim style) and the tart Montmorency cherries that add a bit of zing. Shauna Ahern is one of my heroes, given her thoughtful approach to cooking gluten free so I was delighted to find these on her website. They do take a bit of planning and a well-stocked grocery store, but the chewy, nutty texture is so worth it for this tasty, healthy snack.

This drink is so great! During cold season, I warmed mugs of it up and gave it to the girls and it soothed their sore throats almost instantly.  One morning when I woke up with heartburn and stomach upset (thanks to dinner in a new neighborhood restaurant that was still working out their gluten free options – whoops), I drank some over ice mixed with fizzy water and it helped settle my stomach.  It is relatively inexpensive, non-GMO, and tasty.  The last time I saw it on sale, I bought six bottles to keep in the basement.