Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Back in Missoula with the eyes of an urbanite whose been living far, far away from a big city for way too long. And while I spent the first few hours of the long drive home from Portland relishing the diversity of the families in the parks, the child-friendly, super-hip coffee shops, the kickin' secondhand shops, the delightful flavors of lemongrass and chipotle, basil and unagi, all playing their savory melodies on this foodies palate, days of unique cuisine from all over the globe a memory to hold as I come back to a land of wide, open spaces and, not a whole lot of diversity in between---

I really am happy to be home. Really.

As I biked through downtown after teaching yoga tonight, I thought about all the amenities this funky small town really does have to offer. While there isn't a whole lot more to explore beyond downtown in terms of stuff that you can purchase and savor and find fun or funky or hip, there is a whole lot to explore in terms of trails and waterfalls, wilderness areas and swimming holes.

So it's a trade off.

And, considering my current post vacation bank account, I shouldn't be let loose in the big city for too long anymore. Because I did savor every minute of it, let myself be filled with the sounds and colors, reading every menu along the way. And my Chicken loved it too. She was on total stiumlation overload, the world alive and wild with new things to devour at every turn.

Today she barely left our little house. Yet her tiny plastic slide and the dirt in the dill and parsley pots I planted yesterday, kept her pretty darn busy. The hose. The drawer of kitchen linens that I decided to reorganize (ah, the delights of being a teacher on summer break!). First she made a bed with dish rags. A dress with a tablecloth, wrecking my organized piles along the way. But, really, who cares? What else do we have to do? It's just us, just here, just now.

The day flew by today and I don't have a whole lot to show for it. A couple of organized kitchen drawers. A new sequence of yoga moves to share with my class. A baked chicken sitting happily in my belly. A little girl, covered in marker from head to toe, stickers in her hair, dirt under her nails (toes too!), all smiles and chatter, songs and mischief.

Because home's anywhere you are too.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I've never been to the Oregon Coast. Beaches away from sunny So. Cal astound me with their craggy beauty -- giant rocks, icy surf, misty air. Our day at Cannon Beach was chilly but filled with the sorts of activities that make beaching with a chicken so fun. Destinationless ambles, sandcastle building, crab, mussel and shell finding, cartwheels on the rough earth.

The rain grew a bit intense, so we headed into the little town for insanely good pizza, the perfect treat for damp little bodies.

I heart Portland for showing me the beauty of the booster seat. It's a whole new gig for homegirl when she's hanging with the posse at the table. And thank God for this hardcore chick posse who have helped me through this adventurous week with my babe.

After lunch, we wandered into some lovely little galleries and I actually bought art for myself, something I never let myself indulge in.

I love my little wall dress. I can't wait to redo my room, based on this little, beauteous piece.

But the best part of the day, as it so happened, was the stumble upon an incredible hat shop. Eliana was, of course, the main event in that store and, after trying on every animal head in the place, walked away with this excellent lion's head, thanks to the generosity of her devoted auntie.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

E.T. phone home

I don't buy Eliana a whole lot. Clothes and toys come our way. It's our lucky karma to live a block from the elementary school that we both teach at. We're closer than the Goodwill. And people like us and want to send their generosity in our direction. Bags of clothes with the tags still on, beautiful dolls, board books. It comes our way.

So I can't really excuse buying much for my kiddo.

Until I'm driving down the road in P-Town and a hipster dude is walking across the street holding the hand of a giant E.T. doll and I find myself rolling my window down and saying, "Sweet E.T.!" and then he says, "It's five bucks!" and I sorta laugh and park the car.

But then, five minutes later I'm in some funked out consignment store and there's the dude again, waiting in line to sell E.T. to the hipper dude behind the counter. And I catch him first.

Five dollars later, E.T. is mine.

And he still (like decades after he was born) says all sorts of stuff and lights up (both heart and finger) and is almost as big as Eliana and is freakin' awesome.

It doesn't hurt that I absolutely adored E.T. and was of perfect age to appreciate the brilliance of the flick, going to see it four times in the movie theatre.

Eliana and E.T. are now a total tag team.

"E.T. eat basil? E.T. hungry."
"E.T. up stairs?"
"E.T. hold you?"
"E.T. go night night? E.T. read Moon?"

So we do. And I've never felt so stoked about purchasing something unnecessary and fun for my child. God knows what sort of weird story E.T. has lived for the past couple of decades, but he's ours now, strapped into the seat belt right next to his BFF.

Monday, June 22, 2009

la gran ciudad

As I've mentioned many times before on this blog, I never, ever imagined I'd live in Montana. I have always been a city girl and had you asked me throughout my childhood, teenhood and early adulthood where I would end up one day you would have heard London or San Francisco. There were times when I was thinking I could live in the small town of Seattle. Maybe settle in in Venice Beach.

Point being, I adore cities.

I love the energy. The funk. The grit. The quirky style.
Ah, the style. Fleece and chacos just don't cut it for fashion in my world view. Functional, indeed. Intriguing, unique, overstated, outlandish -- most certainly not.

So bringing my chicken to the oh-so-beautiful city of Portland is an absolute treat. Her auntie Kelli is a superb travel guide and points out bridges and buildings and rose gardens and funky eateries along the way. Eliana is enthralled. Last night we met Jack's family at an Italian place for Father's Day dinner. An old, Frank Sinatra style dude was crooning and playing the accordion while we found our places at a long table. I slid down from El's a ways, as eating with her at restaurants is not exactly one of my favorite things to do. She generally won't sit in a high chair for more than a few minutes and loves to cruise around, play with knives, and generally isn't particularly relaxing to dine with. And I love my perfect little bites. Not a good match.

But the lovely Italiain hostess hooked homegirl up with a booster seat. Is this, indeed, the missing link in the eating out conundrum? Eliana sat for almost three full hours at the other end of the table, yammering away to her new friends, eating lots of bread and butter, buffalo mozzarella and romoa tomatoes, while I drank my Chianti and put perfect amounts of freshly grated Parmesan on hot, housemade pasta, chatting it up with Jack's sister. What gives? I'm now totally obsessed with eating out in Portland and could see myself spending a pretty penny on many a culinary adventure in this fine town. I don't want to push too hard, but it's hard not to be adventurous when your girl is doing such a stellar job keeping up.

Today Els and I started our day with lattes (well, me a latte, her a latte cup with ice and a few drops of half and half...) at the coffee shop down the road from Kelli's place. There's this kickin' area in the back with all sorts of kiddo stuff. Els played like a champ and then dutifully headed back into the stroller so we could stop by the market for a few staples. She is so easy going about the stroller which she totally shuns at home. Another unexpected behavioral surprise here in the big city!

When Kelli came home from work, she had an excellent idea about heading to the Portland Zoo. Of course, initially, my anxiety kicked in. She had woken up really early and wouldn't going to the zoo overstimulate her and then she'd have too long of a day and maybe wouldn't be able to get to sleep and shouldn't we plan such a big trip way in advance and...

Enough! Good Lord does my mind have the capacity to go nutty.

What mom would deprive her kiddo of her first trip to the zoo because of some silly notion of a sleep schedule?

Needless to say, Eliana was delighted by every minute of her zoo adventure. She loved the giraffes and tiger, got a little weirded out by petting the baby goats (that's my girl!), and, like her mama, thought the ginormous African elephant was about the coolest thing she'd (I'd) ever seen.

After a four hour recuperation nap (she did insist on walking most of the mileage around the zoo), we opted for an urban hike, my old standby. Stroller shunner loved the hike. Waved at the cars. Smelled the lavendar and roses. Shouted, "Hello!" at hipster bikers. Love that kid.

Tonight it was pomegranate margaritas and superb tacos. I love the combination of enthusiasm (mom) and skepticism (dad) that is my kid. After a longish walk into the hip Belmont hood where Kelli works, I decided to get Els out of he sun by ducking into a rockin' pizza joint. Four fellows jammin' on trumpet, trombone, bass and drums, were playing some jazz standards. I thought the music was such a perfect city moment, such a sparkling gem in our urban adventure. I moved in right in front of the trombone.

First it was her skeptical look.
Then she turned her head and buried it in her stroller seat.
Then she squeezed her eyes shut.
And then she grabbed my arm like it was her life line in this sea of unfamiliarity.

What a sweet thing. She was so anxious and so freaked, but she didn't make a peep, just waited for it to be over. At one point, with her eyes squeezed shut, she said, "Taco place?" as a way to get us moving. The whole walk had been filled with the, "Ice cream?" plea that I would counter with a jovial, "No! Taco place!" It became a sort of running, inside joke between the two of us, both of our immediate desires (mine for tequila and habanero, hers for dairy and sugar), at the helm of our respective arguments. When the shit really got weird (aka, old dudes with big, loud, brassy instruments), Eliana was thoroughly compliant with rice and beans.

Anyway. Homegirl pays attention. She listens and jokes and joins in accordingly. This city adventure offers her nothing but a sensory feast, limitless things to smell and taste and hear and see. I too am soaking it all in, loving the anonymity, the coolness, the choices.

And it's only Monday.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

the open road

AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

At our wedding five years ago, my dear friend Melissa read a piece of that Walt Whitman quote. It seemed to fit the nature of our romance so well. Jeff and I fell in love while traveling and always greeted our summers with shoestring, Latin American adventures. We poured through Lonely Planet guides, lived on twenty dollars a day, and explored some tremendous, tremendous places on this here beauteous earth. Those adventures molded a part of me that I will always treasure - an adventurous, carefree spirit, soaking in detail, fearlessly speaking Spanish, no inhibitions, no worries about grammar or schedule. Even that picture of Jeff and Iabove at Kelli and Jack's wedding, me prego as a peach, captures that lightheartedness. That lack of total vulnerability. The in-the-moment me that sometimes seems far, far away in these packed days of mamaland.

So when Jeff suggested Elie and I join him on a roadtrip to Portland, I was initially a bit hesitant. He and two of our colleague friends have a conference along the Hood River. Eliana and I could spend the week with his sister and hang, and he'd join us in the evenings. Why is it that committing to mamaland away from all our familiar stuff can feel so daunting? Why did I spend weeks making the decision to join them?

I guess the crux of the issue comes down to straight up anxiety. The anxiety of not having Eliana's stuff just so. The fear of the unknown. How will she do in the car for the nine hour haul? It's enough to keep you in the familiar.

But my girl Casey had just had her own adventure with her almost two year old. Multiple planes, a couple big cities, no schedule, no plan. She was so encouraging. She talked about how the girls are more BFF's these days than babies, more into hanging with us and having adventures and less about needing everything a certain, familiar way. Our chat had me sold and I told Auntie Kelli to get ready for a week with her niece.

And, of course, Eliana was insanely amazing during the car ride. She had her buddy Miss Chris on one side, me on the other, lots of books and babies and songs to keep her motivated (Chris commented that perhaps this would be the first road trip she measured in number of times she could sing, "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" as opposed to miles). She barely slept, but kept her spirits high, taking in each new image outside the window with the mellow, stony stupor of someone too tired to sleep, but still chill enough to just be.

We arrived in this beautiful, green city to Jack, Kelli and Biyou, awaiting our arrival on their perfect porch. Biyou and Lucy made out like long lost doggie lovers, while Eliana turned her charms back on for her auntie and uncle. We even made it through a fantabulous Ethiopian dinner, Elie loving the fact that we were all eating with our hands.

Everyone is resting after a late night filled with the laughter of familiarity, of people joining together who share rich histories. I spent an hour in Kelli's huge claw foot tub, all essential oils and conditioning treatments, the Oregon sky outside the big window moving from gray to blue to gray again. How happy am I to be on this journey with my family? How thankful that I decided to take the risk.

Tonight Jeffy comes back into town for a father's day dinner celebration. I take this moment to send a loud, raucous shout out to my manon daddy's day for injecting my life with excitement and inspiring adventure in unique ways for the past decade. I then cover him with hugs and kisses for the way he loves our girl. His intensity. His commitment. His adoration. His big brain. His faith in the, "long brown path" before us that lead us to such a joyous place.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

joy bucket

Eliana is simply a joy bucket. Everything in her being is celebratory and of the moment. We're coming down off of a three week family love fest where all of her grandparents graced her life with their lively and adoring presences. We also had auntie Hilary and will spend next week with auntie Kelli. All in all a tremendous, full time for our family. And there's something even more special about it when Eliana is visiting her people on her own turf. She can show them what's what. Like all things, "Mine" including, "My toilet."

She was so sweet with each and every one of our family members. She would talk to them and look them in the eye, make jokes that they would laugh at. There are so many stories and pictures to share from these days, but I'm fixated, at present, on the date. I just looked at my calendar. We've been living at Jeff's parents place for weeks now and I've been completely lost with time.

A month from now, Eliana will be two.
I don't even know what to say.

She is so long, so wordy, so expressive, so curly. Today she had a mini-reunion with Moanie. Watching them together was like watching two old friends. Moans ran down the street, arms outstretched and Eliana donned a huge grin and said in her most stately, refined tone, "Hello, Moanie!" She then proceeded to say, "Swing?" and brush past sweet Moana on the way to her swing (Moans handed the dis like a champ).

Later they were dancing naked to the ABC's, all spazzy spins and floppy hands. Casey and I shared one of many, could-they-be-any-more-rad smiles and I felt so settled, so at home. As amazing as it was to have our people here, it was exhausting. For both of us. I sense that Elie knows how precious each moment is, that people want to engage with her. She enjoys getting to know her grandparents better, knows that it makes me so happy to see her with them. But it was also extra exciting and extra full, making the familiarity of that moment in Casey's living room really stand out. The way she finds all her favorite toys over at the Massey house. The way my girlfriends and I so easily fall back into step.

So there are all these lives, all these layers. The world you were born into with all its neurosis and comfort and unconditionality. And the world you find yourself in. A small town with green hills. Easy going, straight up peeps. And a chicken, on the brink of her third year, just taking every single bit of it all in.

Monday, June 8, 2009

la familia

It's been quite a week. I was in Texas at my Grammy's memorial and had the moving and empowering experience of celebrating her life with my sisters, brother, nieces, dad, cousins, aunties and uncles. The day had that warm, sultry Southern heat, the sun was shrouded with little puffy clouds, the church plain and small, a giant willow tree out front, my Grammy T. lying peacefully in her gray blue, satin coffin, surrounded by her people. On either side of Grammy were simple card tables, pictures of us all, letters from us all. It was so simple and so pure. Each one of her five children spoke and shared Grammy stories and memories. They then lead the group in one of her favorite hymns, the little church bursting alive with four part, acapella harmonies. I'm sure her spirit was standing above us, arms held high, as she marveled at how glorious the sound was. The gift of song that she gave to her family.

I am so thankful to have been able to be a part of that.

After saying goodbye's in Dallas, I found myself back on the plane, headed solo for Missoula. Jeff's parents have been visiting, so Eliana was well taken care of in my absence by her devoted Nana and PopPop. I didn't have time to miss her, she really wasn't, believe it or not, at the forefront of my mind during that trip. But the last hour or so on the plane, good golly could I just about burst thinking about her skinny little arms around my neck. The reunion was beautiful and I was quickly thrust into life with another one of my beautiful families. Or maybe it's all just my family. The distinction seems to be blurring. There's our little unit of me, Jeff and Els. There's my people in California and then all over the rest of the country. Jeff's people back east and his sissy and her family in Oregon. And our people here in Missoula. Our family at school. Our family of friends. Our new generation of friends that belong first to Eliana, then to us.

I've been feeling the shining, powerful, overwhelming, all-encompassing sense that is family. That is love of family beyond anything else. That notion of importance that puts everything else in perspective. Because I'm tired of feeling guilty and responsible and taking way too many little, unimportant things too seriously. Time is moving quickly. Eliana turns two way too soon. Morty's in his eighties, my parents are in their seventies, and every moment feels precious.

These are precious, precious days.

Monday, June 1, 2009


I've been having technicolor moments lately. Surreal and vivid and superimposed. It struck me hard last Wednesday. Eliana was at big girl daycare and I was paying a flat rate for the day. So instead of racing home after work, I decided to take Lucy on a hike up Jumbo. It was a nice treat not to race from one role to the next. I was busting some new tunes that I recently purchased and feeling the power and the glory of the girls on the mic. The wind was whipping the tall grasses, grasses that looked almost fluorescent in their vividness. The clouds were moving fast, the sky electric. The moment was alive, my energy palpable. I was wholly aware in that moment of it's brilliance. Of the intense energy I had after a long day. I was supposed to be exhausted and dragging my feet, but I was insanely alive.

I haven't been able to create new choreography in a few months. My artistic juices felt dry and worn. But then that pure voice of my girl from the Ivory Coast pulsed through my 'phones and sure enough the movements began to form in my head. As I listened again and again, the piece took shape. A piece about the beauty of the moment. About paying attention. About feeling the glory in it all.

When I walked in the door, I saw that my dad had left a message on my phone. And I knew in that moment that my Grammy T. had died.

And it all felt right in that moment. The power I had felt on the mountain must have been some fusion of our spirits, her journey from this world sending brightness and energy my way. It made such sense then.

But that was almost a week ago. And I've gone from energized calm to unstoppable tears, to feeling alone and scared and far from my family. Vulnerable. Questioning. Raw.

Tomorrow I get on a plane to say goodbye to my Grammy. I just gave Els an extra long goodnight knowing that I won't see her sweet curls til Thursday. The sun is setting over the valley in shades of pink, blues and grays. I know that my Grammy loved listening to my dad read her posts from this blog. I know that she loved Eliana. The white afghan she knit with nothing but goodness, the way she got the biblical references of her name from the start.

I know that she would see my life as blessed. Be proud of the woman I've become. Know that I try, good Lord do I try, to be a strong, good woman. Try to check my ego. Try to have perspective. Try to love and forgive.

And I have all that unconditional love I received from my family to thank for my good behavior. For generations handing down kindness and laughter, songs and gentleness. For my girl and her brilliant, smiling spirit. For her relentless energy and wild ways. The way she boldly monkey climbs her way through life - reaching, falling, reaching again. Bumps and bonks and screams and belly laughter. So present all the time.

I've thought of my Grammy when the mama moments get rough. That she had five kids. That she followed my Grampy from one state to the next, re-setting up shop so that he could preach the good word to good folk. That she probably didn't spend too much time cultivating herself and that from the time she was eighteen, her husband and her children were her all. That she was absolutely devout and pure. Probably never doubted much. That even though she knew that her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren did not always follow the ways of the Lord, that we had some pretty heafty sins under our belts, she never greeted us with anything but love.

So the challenge continues. To set high standards for love and acceptance. To keep feeling, keep risking, keep holding on to each precious moment.