George writes his birthday list

Last week, George started putting together a list of things he wants for his ninth birthday.

This is what is on it. Straight transcription.

George birthday list

  1. Beat’s head Phone
  2. Amulet Seires
  3. Minecraft Seires
  4. fernicher for room and stuff
  5. buck’s hat
  6. Minecraft lego
  7. football resever gloves
  8. waky takys
  9. bager gear
  10. Gizmo watch
  11. camra
  12. pareket
  13. hoodie’s
  14. Skateboad
  15. Panda
  16. Puzzels
  17. red panda
  18. uculale

Lines 19 through 35 are numbered, but still blank.

“Are these in order?” my sister Nina asked. “Are the things you want most on top?”

Read more


Never in a thousand years

“Mom,” George said. “Tell me a riddle. Or a joke.”

He was setting the dining room table. Napkin, fork, knife, spoon, repeat.

I considered.

“I don’t think I have any new ones,” I said.

“That’s ok,” George said. “I don’t mind.”

And this is true. He doesn’t mind if you tell him a joke he already knows. Sometimes — though it’s rarer these days — if he likes a joke you’ve told him, he’ll repeat it back to you. Right away.

“I could tell you a froggy-in-the-well,” I offered. Read more

Still life with tofu

Wednesday night, Tobin stood in the kitchen chopping ginger. Lydia, home from college and standing beside him, was squeezing a lime.

“Does the tofu need to be flipped?” Tobin asked.

I had volunteered to take over the tofu part of the recipe and was doing a poor job remembering. Right now, it was marinating in a glass pan on the kitchen counter.

“I can’t find a cutting board,” George said from the dog bed where he was curled around Juno. George makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every single day.

Theo looked up from his book. “What’s for dinner? Will I like it?”

“It’s vegetarian,” Tobin said. “It has peanut butter and tofu, two of your favorite things.”

“But will I like it?” Theo asked. He narrowed his eyes. “Tell me the truth.”

Tobin looked at me.

“You create a distraction,” I said. “Then we leave out the basement door.” Read more

Santa goes to hot yoga

Christmas night, after dinner, after Theo and George were tucked into bed, after Taylor and Jack and Lydia packed up their clothing and presents and hugged both of us and walked out the front door to go back to their own apartments or to their mom’s house, Tobin sat in the gray chair.

“I don’t know why I feel sad,” he said.

Through the reflection of the Christmas tree lights in the window, he watched the kids’ car headlights turn on and drive away.

“Did you have a good Christmas?” I asked. Read more

Puppy kindergarten

We all go, all four of us, every week.

Tobin comes right from work, still in a pressed shirt and pants, shoes shined. The boys and Juno and I come from home, carrying a giant bag of dog treats.

“Hold onto Juno’s leash,” Tobin reminds Theo, as we sit down in the big room with the rubber-tiled floor, the ring of plastic chairs, the door to the small fenced grass yard, the two instructors. The room fills with a dozen puppies in varied sizes and colors, and their people.

Half of the puppies have names we considered for our dog — or names of children in the neighborhood. Read more

Help, Thanks, Wow

I went away for 24 hours.

A little more than 24, actually: Saturday morning to Sunday noon.

I went by myself to a small studio 30 minutes away, with a high ceiling, a tall bed tucked into a red and golden curtained nook, and a view of frost-covered fields.

“A writer’s retreat,” Tobin had written a month earlier in my birthday card. He had reserved an Air BnB. My oldest stepdaughter would take care of the boys and the dog during the hours he had to work. Everything had been taken care of.

And so on Saturday morning, after packing clothing and food, computer and charger, after eating breakfast and kissing the family goodbye, I got in my car.

I did not drive directly there. Read more

Alternate universes

It is the season of holidays, minor and major, secular and religious.

Thanksgiving afternoon, our house began filling with family. Taylor zested lemons while Lydia chopped apples. George helped me sprinkle powdered sugar while Theo helped Tobin chop celery. I mashed potatoes. Tobin put the turkey on the grill. Jack ran to the grocery store for sour cream. My mother arrived with roasted brussels sprouts and sauteed shallots. There was gingered cranberry sauce and baked brie with apples and pecans and bacon.

“You know,” Jack said as we sat down at the table. “Some people don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.” Read more

We adopted a dog

It was Saturday morning and we were reviewing lists of dog names.

Gladys. Tillie. Daphne. Ginny. Scout.

We were reviewing dog names because we have a new puppy. 

She’s a mutt from Alabama, an owner surrender who was driven to Wisconsin by a private rescue organization. She’s four months old, twenty pounds, perhaps a Bassett-Corgi mix, with a white spotted coat, black and brown markings, and brown ears that sometimes stick straight out.

We met her on Tuesday. She came home with us on Friday.

We met her after completing an online application, after a home visit, after a reference check to our vet, after being approved and setting up an appointment with the foster mom, after Tobin corresponded with the foster mom many, many times by email and instant messaging. She came to us with the name Bam Bam. Read more

5 x 50 project: What I learned from trying to lose 15 pounds

Six months down. 24 to go.

Last spring, I listed five goals to achieve by the time I turn 50 — and seven strategies to help me along the way. By the math, that’s six months per goal.

On the top of my list of goals: Lose 15 pounds. On the bottom of my list of strategies: Do it mindfully.

My strategies have had a lot to teach me.

Strategy: One goal at a time. Note to self: A goal with a deadline creates a beginning, middle and end. Notice each.

I hadn’t planned it this way, but having one goal for six months gave me a beginning, middle and end. Read more

A visit from the lice fairy

We were reading bedtime stories earlier this week.

Theo, his blond head on the pillow beside mine, put down Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to scratch the back of his head. I realized I had seen him do this earlier, vigorously, for an extended time.

“Bud,” I said. “It’s not good manners to scratch your head for a long time.”

“It itches,” he said.

I sat up.

“Come here,” I said. “Come under the light.” Read more