October 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Posted in Bun, Family, Giggles, Lollipop, Me | 8 Comments
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We’ve been in kindergarten for six weeks now.

Some things have been firmly established. We buy lunch on spaghetti-with-meat-sauce day but not on corn-dog day. We return our library book every Thursday. And we play monsters with a boy named Michael at recess.

But other things? Like a routine? Are about as firm as the blue Jello in the cafeteria line.

Caution: Frazzled Mom Crossing

I drag myself out of bed every morning at 6:35 a.m., which is the absolute latest time I can get up and not have a tardy daughter. I collapse — with sore feet and a sore brain — about 10:42 every night.

In between, there is elementary school drop-off. Preschool drop-off. Dogs to walk. Poop to scoop. Grocery trips. Laundry. Sticky babies. Pet hair. Dishes. Permission slips. Bananas forgotten in the trunk. More pet hair. Beds to make. More laundry. Freelance deadlines. Explosive diapers. Cat puke. More permission slips. Diet Coke shortages. Bouncy balls lost under the couch. More pet hair. Spilled spill-proof cups. Missing shoes. Missing keys. Missing permission slips. Preschool pick-up. Naps. No naps. Elementary school pick-up. Explosive diapers during elementary school pick-up. Homework. Mosquito spray. Sandbox tantrums. Burnt grilled cheeses. Ignored broccoli. Baths. Books. Songs. More laundry.

And sometimes? I shower.

My days are like that logic puzzle. The one about the farmer who has to get his chicken, corn, and fox across the river in one small boat. Except it’s about me, and I have to get to the grocery store.

If I go before Bun’s nap, he will get cranky and smash up the tortilla-chip aisle.

If I take both boys after preschool, jars of pickles will suspiciously explode near us.

If I go with all three kids … Let’s just stop there.

But if I don’t go, it will mean Cheerios and scrambled eggs for dinner. Except we’re out of milk, so scratch the Cheerios.

Every day is the same, yet every day is different. I just can’t get the riddle solved yet.

So every night I fall into bed. Thankful that I’m finally still. Finally in the dark. Finally prostrate. Then I remember that tomorrow is corn-dog day. I slip downstairs to make a jelly sandwich and fill the Sleeping Beauty water bottle. I scrub the pot soaking indefinitely in the sink. I add milk to the grocery list.

And I wonder why that damn farmer owned a fox in the first place.

What do you do when the pieces of your life just won’t fit? How many bouncy balls are under your couch? And is corn-dog day as unpopular at your house as it is at mine?



September 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Posted in Family, Me | 10 Comments
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I haven’t been here lately. I’m not sure where I’ve been.

Why …

There’s no doubt my body has been busy: Cleaning up smooshed graham crackers. Refilling milk and juice (or “goose” as Bun calls it). Walking geriatric dogs. Washing laundry. Drying laundry. Folding laundry. Cursing laundry. Signing my kindergartner’s (!) take-home folder. Hosing off rambunctious brothers after a morning in the sandbox. Steering giant shopping carts up and down aisles. Blocking tiny hands from lobbing sacks of flour and bags of oranges onto the grocery-store floor. Sweating. Doctoring mosquito bites and scraped toes.

But my mind, well, I’m not sure where it’s been. I still feel lost, somewhere between here and there, as if my thoughts are still on the plane waiting to clear customs. For the first time since I started this blog, I can’t think of anything to write. Nothing seems worthy enough. Interesting enough. Happy enough.

I …

And the very reason I write here is to help myself re-frame the boredom and frustration — which is as much a part of motherhood as the snuggles and sandwich crusts — into something meaningful and rejuvenating.

I just can’t seem to do it lately.

But today — today of all days — I want to be here. I want to continue chronicling my life and my family’s. I want to talk about the noses I wipe and the diapers I change and the lunches I pack and the socks I meticulously match, fold, and put away. Because while the little details may not mean much, the bigger picture is important. It’s worthy. Interesting. Happy. It’s my life.


And in the end, at the end, it’s all that matters.

How are you reflecting on today’s anniversary? How do you motivate yourself to keep going on an important project? And how many noses are you in charge of wiping?

The Long Ride

August 14, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Posted in Bun, Giggles, Lollipop, Me, Transylvania | 16 Comments
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Today, I crawled into the back of my Forester to rearrange two car seats and a booster, shoving buckles into latches and practically begging the auto gods for a minivan.

I wheeled one of those behemoth racecar grocery carts up and down aisles while looking for bread crumbs, forgetting the lemons in the produce section (twice), and holding my toddler down with one hand because the buckle was broken — why is the buckle always broken? — when he couldn’t resist reaching for the popcorn … and spaghetti … and club soda …


I unearthed my largest mixing bowl and filled it with water so that Barbie could swim.

I made five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for three children, refilled milk cups four times, sliced bananas and then apples and then more apples, and dumped ostracized pretzels into the dog bowls. And that was just lunch time.

I peered out the kitchen window at the storm clouds above our oak tree and prayed they would open up. They did. I danced.

I found an exploded yogurt in the fridge and cleaned the goop left behind.

I fetched paper, markers, stickers, scissors, glue sticks, pipe cleaners, and that lime-green tractor stuck under the couch.

Today was part-tedium, part-familiarity, as those late-summer days of mothering often are. When favorite cartoons have become boooooooring. When all the rainbows and robots and kittens in rockets that can be drawn have been and are taped, nearly overlapping, to every kitchen cabinet. When shiny, new lunchboxes gleam from the pantry, waiting, their embossed aluminum lids a beacon of the school year’s imminent return.

And despite the air-conditioning, I walked around all day coated in sweat like a lightly greased baking dish.

I walked around. All day.

One year ago, I couldn’t walk at all.

I listened to doctors who didn’t speak English. I begged nurses who didn’t understand me for medicine, more medicine, please. I spent the first of a hundred long nights longing for sleep, for the ability to go to the bathroom by myself, for the muscles to turn my broken body from side to side and kick the covers off when I felt like it.

One year ago today, I couldn’t walk at all.

Now, I can feel the five pins that hold my tibia in place. Stairs still hurt. And there’s a high probability I’ll never run again.

But I can circle the kitchen on my own two strong feet, peeling off Hello Kitty stickers accidentally affixed to the tile. And I can celebrate each and every step.

What are you grateful for today? What anniversaries are you about to celebrate? And do you have stickers stuck to your floor?


June 2, 2012 at 11:35 am | Posted in Giggles, Haiku Friday, Me, Transylvania | 6 Comments
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Haiku Friday: Juiced


This boy and his cast
Have four more weeks together.
I’m going crazy.

He runs, chases, climbs,
Spins, scooters, shimmies, and jumps.
You’re not healed! I plead.

He’s juiced, batteries
Recharged, practically humming,
My electric boy.

Children are resilient: discuss. And what do I do with all his energy??

How I Met My Mother

May 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Family, Guest Posts, Me, Transylvania | 14 Comments
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Mother’s Day is Sunday. Only I forgot. Because they don’t celebrate it in Romania, and I didn’t have the Target card aisle to remind me.

So instead of cute little potted plant and a box of her favorite tea, I gave my mom 10 questions. And this space to answer them in.

Mom and me

Because every time I practically beg my children to find their other shoe fortheloveofPetenow, I wonder: What the heck am I doing wrong? My mom never yelled at me. My mom never made me eat my peas. My mom never frowned. How did she do it??

She’s about to tell us. And really?

It’s not so much a gift for her as it is a gift for me. And you.


You left the onions and olives and other icky things out of casseroles when I was younger because I didn’t like the consistency. How did you have the patience?
I do not see it as having extra patience. When I was young, I never really liked onions or olives either … so I could empathize. Also, you never disliked anything I loved. For example, if you had not liked cheese, we would have had a problem! Besides, in the big picture, battling over onions was something I chose not to do.

PS: You can chop up onions really, really fine … and no one knows they are there. 🙂

You never made me clean my plate … or my room. And I turned out okay. How did that happen?
Do you remember our old neighbors? The father would make his son sit at the table for HOURS if that is what it took to clean his plate. I just thought that was cruel and unusual. And wrong. Because of that, I might have been more lenient than normal, but I had faith that you would eat when you were hungry. There was always the next meal.

As for cleaning your room, I have a very odd theory on that one. When I was growing up, my mother never made us clean our rooms. She always did it for us. Having a clean, orderly room was an expected standard of living. When I grew up and moved out on my own, I still wanted everything to be orderly, so I did it myself.

I feel like I raise my voice or sigh in exasperation at my kiddos at least 23 times a day. I don’t recall you ever doing this. How did you manage it?
OH, NO … you just don’t remember! I felt like I often raised my voice. Well, maybe not raised my voice exactly, but I distinctly remember often using the “evil eye” and snapping my fingers. Being exasperated is part of being a mother. And is perfectly normal. Only mothers on TV never lose their cool! I just always tried to minimize letting off steam and tried to remember you were learning and growing and I needed to learn and grow along with you.

Mom and Bun

How is it different being a grandparent? How is it easier? Harder?
Being a grandparent is FUN because there is no responsibility! I get to be a little kid again and just enjoying playing with the grandwidgets. Blowing bubbles, coloring, watching cartoons … you name it; a grandparent gets to do it all and feel absolutely no guilt. You have the heavy job of installing values, setting goals and expectations, and all that important parental stuff.

In my book, there is nothing hard about being a grandparent! Well, other than living a long distance away … That is the hard part.

How is it watching your child play the role of parent? How often do you bite your tongue when you have a wise nugget to offer?
You and Josh are great parents, so it is very rewarding watching you. As for biting my tongue … First, I hate being told how to do something, so I would never, ever do that to you. These are your children to raise as you see fit, not as I see fit. Second, I know I can always express my opinion and you would be willing to listen. But at the end of the day, you are the parent.

I once spilled a jar of rubber cement all over the carpet. It never came out, yet I was not sent to kid jail. Explain.
Ha! This is truly one of those memories that will last forever! You did not go to kid jail because it was an accident, and accidents happen. Also, what good would it have done to browbeat you with the memory repeatedly? Or made you never touch a bottle of glue again? How productive would that have been? We all learned a valuable lesson that day: Rubber cement is to be used at the table … and not sitting on the floor.

I never had a curfew. Explain.
This one is easy. You never wanted to do anything that went beyond what I thought was acceptable, so there was never the need to set a curfew. Perhaps if you had wanted to stay out all hours of the night with people I did not like, it would have been different. But all your friends were very responsible so I was never anxious about when or where you went. Also, more often than not, you would have people over to the house rather than going anywhere, so other parents had to worry about curfews. I didn’t!

Mom and the Gang

When my high-school boyfriend moved two hours away, you let me drive there on weekends. And I didn’t notice any gray hairs. How did you not worry yourself sick?
Did you ever notice I always highlighted my hair during this time!!? Actually, I did worry myself sick during the drive time. Until you got there and called to say you had made it safely, I was a nervous wreck!

But I believe one of a parent’s main goals is to instill a sense of confidence in her child that any and all goals are achievable. That meant I had to keep a lid on my fear, provide you with the skills to accomplish your goal, and then step back and let you use them. I think I did pretty good in this department.

I do admit to total failure when it came to insects, though. I instilled my fear in you. I wish I could get a do-over on that one! Bugs can be your friends. 🙂

What’s your proudest parenting moment? Your craziest?
A parent’s real pride is not only in her child’s accomplishments but also in seeing the choices her child makes. And I am proud of you every single day.

My craziest parenting moment? Hmmm, must have something to do with volunteering at band camp, being a band chaperone, or working the concession stands at football games. Crazy, but loads of fun!

Describe what went through your mind when I told you we were moving to Romania. (Tell the truth.) How has this year been for you?
Having talked about keeping a lid on fear … this was a very big lid to keep on. It was not that I was afraid of you moving to Romania, just that I could not jump in the car and get there if there was an emergency. That is one of the biggest fears a parent can have — not being able to get to her child when she is needed.

Even though I was scared, I knew it was going to be a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience for you all. So I just started counting down the time till you came home!

Thanks, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day! And I’ll see you in less than two months!


What questions would you like to ask your mom (or mine)? Do you remember things you were allowed to do as a child that freak you out as a parent? And what’s the worst thing you ever spilled on the carpet?

Knits and Pearls

April 26, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Posted in Family, Giggles, Lollipop, Me | 21 Comments
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This sweater is old.
It’s an odd mottle of colors, like the dollops of paint my son swirls around and around.
It’s Kraft-cheese stripes are an accidental hybrid of funk and tang.
It’s exactly as frayed as it ought to be.

This sweater has been places.
I bought it, cheap, on the beach in France. Hundreds of flip-flopped tourists.
I was the cold one.
When I slip my arms through, I hear the wailing wind as it leaps from the Cliffs of Moher.
The whispers in the Sistine Chapel.
The sizzle of frying calamari at that tapas bar in Madrid.

This sweater reminds me.
My mom. Rocking, rocking. The worn springs strumming a lullaby — woom, woom, woom.
My forehead burrowed in the brown-sugar knits and purls of the sweater she wore, always.
The one that smells like her. Like buttercups and post-its and cherry tomatoes and safety.
It’s exactly as frayed as it ought to be.

This sweater will remind them.
I hold them. I listen to their tales: timeouts, worksheets, noodle soup, ladybugs.
I drink them in. Their longness and leanness. The freckle on her shoulder. His eyelashes.
My God, his eyelashes.
Their synapses churn out data, imprinting this, all of this, onto the endless RAM of childhood.
They will remember.
I hope they will remember.

This sweater is old.
This sweater has been places.
This sweater is time, memory, instinct, life.
It’s exactly as frayed as it ought to be.


Today’s Five for Five topic is age. Join in at Momalom.

The Bass Line

April 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 30 Comments
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I’m at a place called Boom Party Club.

Pop music blares. The disco ball whirls. Preschoolers shimmy.

It’s a five-year-old’s birthday party in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

While two child-minders in princess dresses lead imaginary dragon hunts and make balloon swords, the parents — me, a French couple, and 7 or 8 Romanians — relax in the back room around platters of schnitzel de pui and salata de cartofi.

After pleasantries in English and a round of gin and tonics, conversation turns to the usual adult fare: the economy, traffic, chicken pox, and the upcoming class trip to the football stadium.

There’s talk of a helicopter ride over the field.

At least, I think so.

At some point I don’t quite notice, the Romanians switch back to their native tongue, leaving me and the French couple swirling our empty gin glasses and reaching for more meatballs.

I catch words I know: grădiniţă, maşină, varicelă.

I laugh when I’m supposed to.

I chime in with a da, da! every once in a while.

But, honestly, I haven’t got a clue.

And it’s more refreshing than the salt-rimmed frozen margarita with fresh lime juice I haven’t had in 10 months.

Instead of wracking my brain for something to say about the latest Greece bailout, I admire the beadwork on one mother’s purse. I slip pretzels to the two-year-old in pigtails winding her way through our feet. I take a long but inconspicuous look at the woman across the room who I’ve heard has a newborn at home. She’s wearing high heels and mascara. Her hair is freshly blow-dried. I marvel.

Then I realize the room is quiet. Everyone is looking at me. I blink.

“American schools?” one of the dads asks. “Are they worth what you pay?”

I have no idea if he’s talking about preschools or primary schools or massage schools. I pause and say “um, well, uh” a few times before coming up with something vaguely intelligent. Or at least something vague.

Eventually, the English words dissolve back into Romanian ones, and I resume parceling out pretzels to the pig-tailed toddler. I wonder how many grown-ups are sitting in uncomfortable folding chairs in San Francisco and Duluth and Tulsa right this very moment, double-dipping potato chips into ramekins of ranch dressing and talking about the state of education. Or how the soccer team is doing. Or the latest economic bailout.

When the child-minders beckon, we sing to the birthday girl. We eat strawberry cake and bop to catchy Romanian standards like De Zuia Ta.

Under the sparkly shine of the disco ball, I collect kids, shoes, and party favors. We say thank you. Mulţumesc! And goodbye. La revedere! The hostess and I cheek-kiss, as you do in Europe.

And we slip out the door of Boom Party Club, where cultures ricochet off one another like the children moshing inside to the thumping bass.


Today’s Five for Five topic is words. Join in at Momalom.

Spare Change

April 23, 2012 at 11:54 am | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 36 Comments
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After you’ve been in Romania a while, you can tell who they are.

You look quick. And then you look away. Because staring too long makes you an easy mark.

With their oil-black hair, nutmeg skin, and onyx eyes, they are exotic and beautiful and shrewd. They peddle flowers and glass and potatoes. They stand by the OMV gas station on the E60 and wait for men to pick them up. They make some of the most enchanting music you’ve ever heard.

They are the Roma. The gypsies. Two million Romanians who are the minority no one likes to talk about.

A mother and her two daughters came up to my car once, while I was buckling the baby in. Bani, vă rog? they asked, their hands reaching over me and casing the black cloth seats. Alimente? Bani? Pentru copii?

With my own hands full of five-point harness straps, I tried maneuvering my shoulders to block them. Nu, nu înţeleg, nu vorbesc româneşte, I said, even though I knew exactly what they wanted.

I managed to slam the back door and slip into the driver’s seat. But not before one of the girls noticed our cache of change for parking meters and shopping carts. Bani? she asked as she stretched across me. I shoved a few silver coins into her hand and pushed her away. She eyed two forgotten Snicker’s bars in the door pocket. Ciocolată, she demanded. I gave her one and tugged the door closed.

She was seven, maybe eight.

I sat there. I watched her. I looked at my grocery list and the cloth bags in the passenger seat. Soon, they would be filled with milk and eggs and bread and yogurt and apples and cookies and pasta and all the things my family consumes in a week. When was the last time that little girl had a glass of milk? I wondered. An apple? A plate of spaghetti and a tomato-sauce mustache?

She stuffed half the Snicker’s bar into her mouth, pocketed the other half, and scurried up the road to join her mother and sister, who were rummaging through the trash cans at the top of the hill.

Without really thinking about it, I started the car and drove up beside her. I rolled down the window and handed her the other bar. She looked at me for a long second before taking it. What did she see? I wondered. A gullible stranger? A “rich” foreigner? A haughty bitch? Or someone who cared, at least for that moment?

As her mother and sister noticed us, they waved their hands and shouted. Bani, vă rog! Alimente! Pentru copii! I shifted into third and turned the corner, leaving that little girl with her 30 cents, her chocolate bars, and the mother who had taught her how to beg so she wouldn’t starve.

What would it take for her life to change? For her to go to college and get a job? For her to one day laugh at spaghetti mustaches on her own children’s faces?

Had I helped? Or hurt?

And who really needed to change? Her? Or me?


Note: I’ve lived in Romania for 10 months. I don’t fully understand or have answers for the poverty and discrimination the Roma face in this country. But I know what I see, what I feel, and how I long for something to change. For me, writing it down is the first step. 


Today’s Five for Five topic is change. Join in at Momalom.

The Birthday Girl

March 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 25 Comments
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My birthday is this week.

Maybe it’s because I’m so very far away from my family. Or because Romania doesn’t have buttercream icing. But I’ve found myself doing a lot of self-reflection as I cross another year off the calendar. It’s like I’m sorting through my mental manila file folders (I love those!) and clearing out my collection of memories. Keep? Toss? Share?

And this question: What’s missing?

In my 34 years, I’ve birthed three children, 943 blog posts, and countless magazine articles.

I’ve sold Girl Scout cookies and magazine subscriptions. I wasn’t very good at either.

I’ve seen Yellowstone and the Parthenon and kangaroos hopping across a golf course.

I’ve stood in the middle of Dachau and been crushed by the infinite sorrow of that place.

I once walked down the Champs-Élysées alone on an August afternoon and felt my soul slip into place. Like all the pieces finally, finally fit.

I’ve ridden a roller coaster and slept in a tent. If I never did either of those things again, I’d be just fine with that. Seriously.

I’ve run a half-marathon. The whole damn thing. Every single hill.

I fell off my bike and broke my wrist when I was 9. I fell off a Vespa and broke my leg when I was 33.

I’ve cleaned puke off train tracks and My Little Ponies and stuffed ducks in the middle of the night.

I’ve avoided more conflicts than I can count, like the time I hid in the bushes outside the library to avoid telling this really sweet guy that I didn’t want to go out with him. (He’s not reading, I’m sure. But just in case, I’m so, so sorry.)

I’ve taken 8,000 pictures and used up probably that many glue sticks.

I’ve spent hours worrying. Hours and hours. About car crashes and cancer and, well, everything.

I’ve never made a diorama or gotten poison ivy.

I’ve looked my children straight in the eye and told them that, no, Mommy is not eating chocolate.

I made straight A’s my whole entire life. And now I think, who cares?

I can’t really cook or sew or grow things. But I floss my teeth every day, and I’m pretty sure that counts for something.

As I type this list, as I think my way through this birthday week, I wonder … Is this enough? What does “enough” even mean?

After the cake is gone and the wrapping paper is in shreds under my chair, what really matters? It it enough that I love my husband? That I love my kids? That I try every day to love myself?

Is that enough? Am I enough?

And how do I know?

Have you ever given yourself the gift of introspection? Did you find clarity? Peace of mind? Renewed sense of purpose? Or did you just want another piece of birthday cake?

For Whom the Snow Falls

March 10, 2012 at 9:53 am | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 10 Comments
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Spring is in the Romanian air.

The temperature is still tap-dancing around freezing. The kids still laugh hysterically when they see their breath in the car. And I’m still wearing my beloved YakTrax. But spring? It’s here.

Ahhhhh, spring.

How do I know? Last week, I had an animated discussion about the pile of snow clinging to the roof with the old man who takes care of our building. He spoke some fast Romanian. He gestured a lot and stomped his feet. He made kapow! noises.

I nodded knowingly.

Even though I’ve never seen snow like this in my life. Let alone three months of snow about to fall off a roof. My roof.

We concluded that the deluge would happen in the next day or so … then ricochet off the covered front porch … and then explode right into the spot on the street where I had carefully spent 15 minutes parallel parking.


I moved the car. And seriously considered buying us all helmets. Just in case.

The next morning, there it was. Right where he said it would. In the empty parking spot everyone else had had the sense to avoid.

Mărţişoare, like this handmade one, are given to women on March 1 to celebrate their awesomeness. Oh, and the arrival of spring.

As I stared at the smashed snow-pie in the road, it hit me. (Figuratively, of course.) I’m a rookie. Winter — real, cold, and brutal — is new to me.

But so is this life, this expat life filled with roundabouts and rolled r’s and purple money.

With spicy ketchup and cherry moonshine.

With holidays like last week’s Mărţişor, which celebrates the women, spring, and the exile of long underwear.

I can let this life — equal parts amazing and exasperating — frustrate me. Exhaust me. Grate my very last nerve into shreds thinner than the carrots in Romanian cole slaw.

Or I can open my arms and embrace whatever falls into my path.

Right after I put my helmet on.


Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
See the photos.

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