Day 14 | 5x5 Challenge | It's a predictable pattern, at least.

5 Minutes (truly, because blogging this should not have even made it to the top of my list tonight): 

I remember my mom telling me once that my Grandma Mary used to have a hamburger roll spread with jam and a cup of her standard coffee—light with cream—after dinner. It was her dessert and a way to unwind. I'm pretty sure she didn't engage in this relaxing ritual when she was a young mom of five kids, also taking care of her ailing parents down the street. It was probably after she retired. In fact, I can't actually even imagine her taking time for her self, as she was always doing stuff for other people. But apparently she did at some point. I thought of her—of this—tonight, out on the deck, sipping my light coffee, feet up while I watched Jules hit baseballs thrown by Jon and Kai find the soccer ball that soon we'd be kicking around as a family (newly discovered World Cup fever). And I just rested there, for a full five minutes.

I bailed on two of my favorite people tonight—pretty last minute—because I was anxious about preparing for another work trip combined with the fact that Kai-guy never goes to sleep. Oh, sure, he goes through the motions: I read him books, tuck him into bed, scratch his back. He sends me off with a hug and a kiss, to find his "favorite blankie." I bring it up, and he fakes like he's going down. Then it begins: the request to read in our room, or at least his room (he typically sleeps on Julian's top bunk). I set him up with books, ask him to just stay quiet and relax. And he complies—momentarily. Then he's on to rearranging furniture and un-organizing drawers. Sometimes he sings. Sometimes he recites—spoken-word, Beatnik style—song lyrics. "Scooby. Doo-by. Doo. Where. Are. You." Tonight, he unearthed a Batman lanyard and an Akron RubberDucks baseball cap, which he was wearing sideways when I walked in. I placed him back in his bed, turned on the overhead light he'd turned on and flipped on his scrolling-underwater-scape nightlight instead. I walked out of the room and into the one where I am now. Ten minutes.

"Mom? Mom? I can't find Teddy."

I go into his room to help locate the tiny bear, who once sported a Mets jersey and now sleeps naked. He was missing. He being Kai, not Teddy. (But Teddy was still missing, too, at this point.) The little imp had transported himself to the top bunk in Julian's room again. There he was sitting, surrounded by two bears who were bigger than Teddy, but had his same light brown fur. Still, no relation. Teddy was under his knee.

"Teddy is under your knee."

"Oh! There he is!"

"I love you. Good night."

"I loooooove you! Good nii-iiiiight!"

Now I am in here. And he is in there. There, where there is rustling. I'm going to pack for tomorrow and he is going to crash—in 45 minutes or so.

Day 13 | 5x5 Challenge | Today was long and sweet.

5 Minutes:

It was the longest day and it feels it, in a really good way. At solstice (which, I learned from the

Farmer's Almanac

, occurred at 6:51 am) I was running—about one third of the way done. When I got back, the boys were still asleep and Jon was just pouring his first cup of coffee. We actually got to have a conversation—uninterrupted and not about scheduling. No clue what we actually discussed. The boys woke up and ate breakfast. Jon disappeared upstairs to deal with some laundry (go Olin!), and Jules, Kai and I drew pictures and practiced letters, so, so nicely, for what seemed like a long time.

Then it was summer, full-on. I took the boys to

Last Resort Farm

 to pick berries. When we got there—after a few wrong turns and a 30-minute drive—it was all picked out. But Eugenie, who runs the farm, pointed us toward the kids' field and offered the boys to pick whatever ripe berries they could find. And so we did: Jules intently seeking the the rare red gems and pressing them into my hand, after he'd bitten them in half, to "taste how sweet"; Kai following behind, with a less-precise, more-dramatic picking style. The place was magical. We watched red-winged black birds zip and dip across the sky in some sort of (mating?) chase. We pointed out how the clouds—the kinds kids draw—hung low just above the tops of the long greenhouses. Then we went into the farm stand and bought two of the few remaining pints of the sweetest, reddest pre-picked berries.

When we got home, the next-door neighbor—six, like Jules—had set up a stand to sell lemonade and homemade (AMAZING) donuts. Eventually, a gang of neighborhood kids assembled next door, and then in our backyard, playing on swings and creating scenarios that involved armor and swords. THIS is what summer had always been to me. With Ange and Dan, Jeff and Steve, Missy and Gina. We had bike races. We played GI Joe. We held an Olympics. (Hello, 1984.) We choreographed outdoor performances (most memorable: Billy Joel's "The Longest Time"). We stayed out all day until our moms called us in for dinner.

For dinner, tonight, we packed it all up for the beach. The crowd there was surprisingly sparse—perhaps because it wasn't hot, just warm, and the water was freezing. Its iciness didn't faze Kai a bit, and not really Jules either. But he preferred to stay in the sand, building volcanos and retaining walls for waterways, combing the beach for sea glass. Jules and I hung along the water (bellies full of quinoa salad and cantaloupe), while Jon and Kai went back up for a second course of hot dogs.

We reconvened for one last hurrah at the playground before getting in the car and driving to Archie's for ice cream. Long. Sweet. Today. Let's keep it coming, summer.

Day 12 | 5x5 Challenge | Go for the run.

5 Minutes:
I'm using this post as a palate cleanser—as a way to transition from my overall approach to life from "asshole" to "effective." This finite and optional exercise will ease my fingers into typing what I really should be writing—something compulsory and ill-defined. It knew it'd be a challenging day. That's why I took five minutes this morning to walk through the garden, admiring the yellow flowers that have started to appear on the tomato plants, the tell-tale tops of carrots, the neat row of snap peas. To appreciate where sun intersected with shadows, creating sharp angles, to notice how simple was the swing hanging from the tree—something I never pay attention to when a kid is sitting on it.

I didn't run because I felt like there wasn't time. That might have been a mistake.

Tonight, I totally snapped. The boys suddenly turned starving when it was time for bed. I was too tired to fight it so I made some toast. I topped it with mashed avocado and sprinkled on the tiniest bit of salt. One kid poured himself a glass of milk and got down to it; the other threw himself to the ground and demanded almond butter. I said no, in a not-so-nice way. He peeled himself from the floor and brought it to the table. While the the boys consumed their snacks—one actively and one still in a pre-contemplative stage—I paged through a proposal. I set a timer for the snack deadline. I watched the clock. I became increasingly anxious. The snacking proceeded at a pace slower than the clock but because the pokey kid had moved into active eating, I allowed it to continue. And became more anxious. Teeth-brushing was agony. I raised my voice. I walked them up the stairs. They whined for 3 chapters. I told them it was too late. We started reading. One kid draped his legs over my entire body. I asked him to stop. The other leaned into occupy the little remaining space of my physical being and bonked my head. Hard. I started crying (frustration, not injury) so did he (pure sadness). It broke my heart. What was I doing?

Now they are sleeping and I am counting my missteps. These being the only steps I've taken in 6 days. It's been an exercise free-week. I'm drinking black coffee and pounding salted peanuts. I am basically doing the opposite of what's prescribed in the healthy living program I'm about to propose. Noticing the contradiction seems to only fuel its propagation. But these situations go in cycles. I know this. And, now having finished this reconciliatory post, I will move on to getting shit done, to making it happen.

And, next time, I won't skip the run.

5 Snaps:

 (Sweet card by Scout's Honor Paper

Day 11 | 5x5 Challenge | Day Tripper

5 Minutes:
I woke up before dawn and struggled with what to wear. Settled on the standard black pants. We were driving–all of us, in a rented mini-van—so I didn't feel quite so rushed. If I was a few minutes late, they'd wait. But I wasn't. I was 20 minutes early and didn't need to deal with security. So I walked around the mostly empty halls noticing, with slight envy, the people who looked packed for vacation. I got myself a Skinny Pancake egg sandwich and a coffee and I parked it on a bench. We drove to Boston, talked shop and not-shop, got carsick looking at screens. We met with one client, and then the next, and I left both meetings head spinning with possibilities. We piled back into the champagne caravan, plus two—they'd flown in from New York and were hitching a ride back. More shop talk, not-shop talk and discussion about whether to dine sitting at a table or in the minivan. What about a state-line liquor-store stop? Negotiation ensued. An agreement was made: liquor store, sit-down dinner. We left one, then the other, enriched. We hit the road for home. Tomorrow will be more typical. I am exhausted—and totally invigorated.

Day 10 | 5x5 Challenge | The Secret to Super+

5 Minutes:
I have history of overproducing, making everything more complicated than it could—or should—be. What results are 75-minute recorded interviews with scientists who will contribute a quote or two to a 1,500 word story—and hours wasted transcribing notes that "will come in handy" someday. (Though sometimes they do.)  Or a meticulous organized closet shelf in a room that now appears as if a shit-tossing tornado blew through. A brilliant idea so "perfectly" planned it never gets executed.  But in the last couple of years—thanks to kids and colleagues—I've learned to see the beauty of a MVP. That is, minimal viable product.

Peonies are beautiful—but so are wild flowers. Making a new recipe is fun but chopping up whatever veggies came in the CSA share and boiling rice actually gets dinner on the table. It's OK to sneak a pre-packaged snack into a backpack, and special one-on-one time time doesn't have to be spent at the beach. When you do it well—owning whatever "it" is (a quick, pointed call; a simple chicken stir-fry; a one-on-one walk)—Regular truly can be Super +.

5 Snaps: 

Day 9: 5x5 Challenge | Breakout retrospective

5 minutes:
I'm not sure I'd call myself a creature of habit so much as a slightly over-scheduled parent always seeking efficiency. I do J's pick-ups and Jon does K's because they're on our respective paths. But today the convergence of Julian's first day of camp and K's early school closure left me picking up both boys early—at least by our family's standards.  I was excited to have a date with Kai but when I picked him up all he wanted to do was go get his brother. So that's what we did. I convinced him to hold my hand as we walked on the muddy cut-through past run-down buildings and signs with so many instructions—"no dumping," "please don't block the gate." Past purple clovers with bumblebees and rambles of yellow buttercups. I thought of growing up and the old abandoned elementary school whose brick walls I used for bouncing tennis balls. I felt happy. And nostalgic. Kai was just glad to get to see Jules at his climbing camp.


There were not parking spots in the street, or on the lower levels of the garage, so I drove the whole way up. Why stop at 4 when you can go just a little more and see the entire city? So that's what I did. Peering down at a town that doesn't feel like mine so much anymore, I noticed the jewelry shop where Olin bought the diamond he presented me in Maine and thought all of the time we spent on these city streets together, drinking coffee down the street and tea right next door. I noticed the Flynn Theater sign and remembered my dancing days. I spun East to see the tops of  UVM halls, that school half the reason I'd come here in the first place. I thought of long summer days spent in a hot Terrill Hall. I thought of lunches at Mirabelle's with my friend Beth. I thought about how this all seemed like a lifetime ago. 

And then I circled down the echo-y stairwell. The heavy metal door slammed shut with a bang. A sound I associate with this town. To this day. 

5 Snaps: 

Day 8 | 5x5 Challenge | Into the Woods

5 Minutes:
In honor of Father's Day, Jon, Jules, Kai, Demps and I hit the trail. Olin is a hard-core hiker (or was until family compromising cut into his time spent on mountains). Given the opportunity, I'd rather run for exercise and draw or dance or hang or flip around in the yard with the kids, but I try to get into the woods with Jon and the kids much as I can. I've learned I enjoy hiking best when allowed to stop and snap photos of centipedes and spiders, frogs, snakes and little boys pretending to be birds of prey. I guess I like hiking like a kid. Hearing leaves rustle and wondering if it's a bobcat, hopping over rocks in a muddy creek instead of taking the drier high road, looking for interesting plants, trying to spot the birds singing high overhead. But because I'm an adult, I do leave the trail not only in awe of all I've seen but grateful for having gotten out there and really paid attention. Thanks, Olin, for helping me—and our kids—to simply live better.

5 Snaps: 

Day 7 | 5x5 Challenge | Tag-team

Observation: the 5x5 Creative Challenge isn't the only numerically based, social-sharing centered game in town. There is, of course, #100happydays, a initiative in which you're supposed to post a picture (every day for 100) of something that makes you happy. Today, I read about #7daysofreality—proposed by British mum blogger (who, as it turns out, happens to be a friend of my friend). I love both concepts. Which perhaps is why my 5x5 post today combines perfect moments, pictured, and REALITY, the kind that bites. Until you write about it and it turns out to be pretty funny. 

5 Snaps: 

5 Minutes Writing:
The day began mellow, with both boys obsessively writing in the Star Wars workbooks we bought yesterday at The Flying Pig. These things were such a hit that they insisted that we bring them with us (along with a lunchbox full of crayons and markers) to the farmers' market. So we did. They sat and colored, then climbed the big pine, then each selected a treat—a Rookie root beer for Kai; a Stony Loam Farm egg sandwich for Jules—so nicely. Treats were consumed. Kai and Jon did somersaults in a semi-private part of the lawn. It was idyllic. It was not typical. So we went to the library. WITH OUR DOG.

That's when shit got real. And it wasn't the dog. The boys were running and jumping and loudly talking through the aisles; they were in and out of the little outside reading nook. Jon and I were handing them back and forth while the other of us tried to find a book. It all basically could be characterized as a big parenting fail. We left: me, feeling like we're overly permissible parents raising rude young men and lecturing about proper library decorum; Jon, just looking silently agitated. Our next stop: the school playground, to burn off steam, riding bikes.

Except that no one wanted to ride bikes. They wanted to throw a found softball at each others' heads. I dismissed Jon to go for a run with the dog. And tried to prevent the boys from injuring each other. Which mostly worked. Then Jules found a purple marker and I turned my back. I won't go into the details, as the photos above likely make it quite clear.

But I will say this: A lot of good came out of that little purple autograph. Jon and I, on a date tonight acknowledged the solid tag-team parenting/partnering that happened around it (I insisted on going home for cleaning supplies to fix the mistake; Jon insisted that he be the one to drive back with the boys so I also could get in a run). And, as a family, we'd reviewed an important life lesson:

We all do stupid shit and make mistakes. But almost everything is fixable. And, when you're fixing a mistake, it's good to ask for help.


Day 6: The 5x5 Challenge

I think I'm posting right now because if I don't I'm going to have to pay at least 4x as much to have dinner with three fabulous fellow 5x5ers as I would if I keep at it through June 30. Hilary, Amanda, Angela and I agreed that the first person to drop this challenge is treating.

5 Snaps: 

5 Minutes: 
It was the last day of kindergarten for Jules—a rainy one. So rainy that the heavy peonies, some now fully bloomed, couldn't hold up their heavy heads and so we cut one to bring inside. So rainy that end-of-school celebrations planned for the beach gave way to an indoor pizza party punctuated with a basement performance of a Frozen medley that melted into a laser-beam-lit rave featuring drums, a tricycle and pole-climbing. It all felt very Spielpalast to me. Beautiful.

Beautiful because these little players were creating purely out of passion and camaraderie. Their reward was the journey. They'd collaborated and coordinated and choreographed. And then invited us down to watch as sung/drummed/pedaled/climbed their new-1st-grader (and pre-Ker) hearts out. And then waited for the claps and cheers and beams. The affirmations that they'd done good. 

I think a lot about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation—at work and at home. What drives us to actually DO what we want to do and should do for ourselves. Do I run because it makes me feel good, or because my doctor told me to do it? (Feels good.) Do I give 100% to a work project because doing my best makes me feel good—or because I want kudos from my boss? Definitely the former. This struck me when I was finishing my (job) self-appraisal today. Yes, I care about the sort of review I get back. But I care more that I've created, and learned, a ton this year. I feel good about it. And I feel good about feeling good about it. 

So I'll run and I'll work and I'll write not for reward or lack of punishment but because these things make me whole. But if someone wants to reward me for unpacking the dozens of boxes still sitting in the guest room closets from last year's move or for planting the onions that have been hanging out in my kitchen so long they've sprouted antlers, I'll take it. Or leave these tasks for another day. Again.  

Day 4: 5x5 Challenge - Expiration dates.

Four days in, not posting would make me feel guilty. But time-intensive posting also will induce guilt. So here I post quickly. Meaning finding five snaps—no formatting—and spending five minutes on the EXECUTION of the writing.

5 Snapshots: 

5 Minutes:
It's raining. Truly raining. Not sprinkling (a Western PA term that a friend on Facebook just reminded me is a really weird and gross way of saying light rain showers). I just want to lie and listen to it, maybe read until it's really, really late. But there is lots of laundry to be done. Because no one has any clean socks around here. It's sandals season. But tomorrow's relay day so Jules wants to wear his sneakers. I could dig through baskets for a matching pair—but I've been at that for weeks so it seems time to dive in and attack the problem head-on.

We keep accumulating stuff. And more stuff. It seems that half of my life now is about managing this stuff—mostly unsuccessfully. I never used to be into flowers. They die. They're here and gone. What's the point? I used to think. Now I know: That's exactly the point. It's obvious when it's time to toss wilting blooms, or rotting broccoli, into a compost pile. There's of none of that purgatory holding-on like I tend to do with clothes that are in 62% flattering and look brand new or 96% flattering and starting to fray—or with mugs that aren't my favorite but they're just a few spots away. You acquire them, you appreciate them, you share their goodness and when they've expired, you're grateful for the sustenance that brought you. But you don't hang on. You move on.

(PS: The Danmade mug is not in the purgatory pile and never will be. If forced to make a choice, I would donate every other mug I own and drink from this cup every single day. Olin: Don't get any ideas.)

5/5 Creative Challenge: Day 3

It's my Day Three of The 5/5 Creative Challenge. I'm on a streak. (And totally digging new posts by 5x5-ing friends: Amanda... Hilary. Who's next? Angela? Sarah? Another evolved "by 5" from Anna? My day today felt fleeting and fast in so many ways.

5 Snapshots: 

5 Minutes:
The hum of the dishwasher is both domestic and calm—a contradiction 'round these parts. Today, I edited a story that suggested a white noise machine in the bedroom for better rest, and also recommended stroking your man's hand or doing an activity he really likes, like watching sports, because it will make him feel good and therefore improve your relationship. I cut that part out. 

Both boys are in a flow. Jules is making a end-of-year card for his bus driver. "What comes after the 's' in vacation?"  Uhh....

What does a 16 look like? Kai talks over Jules, who gets frustrated and talks louder. "Mummmyyyy... what's next?" 

"Well, there's actually no S; a T sounds like SH," I tell him, damning the idiosyncratic spellings of the English language when his face starts to crumple. He recovers. Turns out he hadn't even gotten anything down on paper yet. Phew. "So an H comes after the T?" 

"What. Does. A. Six. Teen. Look. Like.??"

I silently draw the figures of a 1 and a 6 on the sheet in front of Kai. Satisfied, he starts to copy them, neatly but backwards. Lately, though, he's had a burst of interest and skill when it comes to scribing. It's cool. 

I spell out the rest of vacation for Jules, recognizing that a tiny mistake could throw him over the edge. He writes it all down and then proceeds to write, on his own, after "I will miss you on summer vacation," "But I will still see you." I am not so sure about that. But I don't say it. I'm trying to check my tendency of squashing magical thinking. In fact, I'm trying to do more magical thinking myself. 

Tap, tap, tap. It's Kai's pen bouncing impatiently on my shoulder. "Now what, Mama?"

My head is spinning. It's all so fast. By the time I react, they're on to the next thing.