Friday, October 24, 2014

Free E-Book--Motherlode: Essays on Parenthood

"The lead singer of the band has blue eyes and blond hair that curls long and shaggy past his ears. His wiry body stands relaxed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. He sucks in his cheeks when he plays the guitar, his face an impassive mask of concentration, but once in a while one corner of his mouth lifts. When I catch his eye, I smile at him and he looks quickly away, as if he never saw me. I’ll be taking him home after the show."

So begins my essay, "Here Be Dragons," in the newly released collection, Motherlode: Essays on Parenthood.

This essay has been in process for nearly four years. The first kernels of it began sprouting not long after M started guitar lessons. It lived in an earlier version, called "The Boy in the Band" (thanks to a writing prompt from Lisa Romeo) in Issue 12 of GEMINI. During the last semester of my MFA program, I worked on it with my mentor, the indomitable Aaron Hamburger, after we got all that pesky fiction out of the way. And then I worked on it some more and some more and some more.

I wrote it as I lived it and lived it as I wrote it. All the while, more experience fed the writing, as I worked through the situation and into the story. In the end, I think it's an essay that asks (but does not answer), how do we keep our children safe in the face of unknown dangers?

And now I'm very happy to share it with the world in the new collection, Motherlode, which you can get as a FREE Kindle e-book today through Sunday (October 24-26, 2014) here (No Kindle? You can download the viewing software onto your PC).

Alongside my piece are several wonderful essays: Stephanie Vanderslice on that painful but inevitable growing apart that happens when your child reaches a certain age; Ann V. Klotz on being an expert on teenage girls, but still struggling to raise teenage daughters; Julia Poole contending with her own fears and prejudices when her son joins the wresting team.

I would love it if you got your free e-book version and came back here to let me know what you think. And if you'd rather read a real actual book made out of paper that you can hold in your hands, you can get a copy here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wandering, With Children

This weekend I bribed the children to go wandering with me.

All it took was a slice of pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting that one of C's clients had given him.

It was an easy bargain to make; C doesn't like frosting and I don't like pumpkin.

My intention was to head south from our usual spot along the river and find the beaver lodge.

We made our way down to a part of the river we usually only see in winter, where the water meanders through tall grasses and ancient willow trees.

But soon we found ourself sprung back out into our back field.

We took a break and played a game of "still hunting," in which you're supposed to sit very still and silently and wait for wildlife to come to you.
Everyone but E, who curled up into a ball in a patch of sunshine, was very bad at it.

Z prowled around like a cat and M climbed trees.

We then made our way across our neighbor's field and into the woods behind his house.

Hoping to find the beaver lodge from another angle.

We crashed around in the woods and the tall river grass for a while.
We found lots of sign of beaver--chewed down stumps and long trails to the river where branches and maybe whole logs had been dragged.

We saw deer poop and ant hills and old tires. Berries and seedpods and fungus. But we never did find the beaver lodge.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Sometimes I overthink things.

Sometimes, I think, "Oh, we should go do such-and-such," but then I can't quite triangulate the two free days a week to fit such-and-such in.

And though most of the time it's nothing very important, or life-changing, like a corn maze, it's nice to get out of my own way now and then.

The last time we went to a corn maze, M was three years old. The next fall, I had two babies. A corn maze was out of the question. And all the falls since, I just never could get around to it, even though there's a farm with a corn maze only fifteen minutes away from home.

Then a friend suggested we go to a different corn maze--one an hour-and-a-half away--on Halloween.  And because that was way more daunting than the corn maze down the road, that I hadn't mustered the energy to go to in then years--and, let's face it, because I like to be in control of the situation and do everything on my terms--I got it together and we headed out one late Sunday afternoon. 

The boys got their money's worth--running up and down the rows of corn with their friends for nearly an hour, eating ears of roasted corn, making friends with the chickens that free-ranged in the maze. I wandered the rows, a bit in awe of this grass--grass--growing higher than my arm can reach. It's not much of a corn patch, by Iowa standard, I suppose. But it was a pretty amazing place to spend an afternoon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Skinny Big Hill Hard Mountain

"While it can be maddening to hike with a small child who stops to examine every bug and begs to be carried only to run circles around all of the adults who have collapsed after the end of a long hike, it can also be eye-opening to put away the binoculars and get out a magnifying glass. That is, forget about goals and destinations and get down on the kid’s level, slow down, and take in the world one pebble and caterpillar at a time. So it takes all afternoon to travel a hundred yards of trail, so what? The important thing is that you and your child are enjoying the world together and, while you’re at it, you are learning (or relearning) a whole new way of seeing the world."

I'm thrilled to have my essay/article, "Skinny Big Hill Hard Mountain: The Labor and Love of Hiking with Children," in this month's issue of TrailGroove magazine. You can click here to read more.

A Trip to the Bog

Last week, I joined E and Z's class on a field trip to Hidden Valley Nature Center.
As we trooped down the trail to our forest study site, they kept angling for detours:

"Let's see what's down this trail!"

"Let's go to the bog."

It told them they had to stay with their class, but that we could return to the Nature Center over the weekend and go anywhere they wanted to go.

Meanwhile, thinking to myself, "A-ha, a chance to get these grumpy homebodies out of the house!"

By Sunday morning, of course they had changed their minds.

But I insisted that we were going anyway.

And they said, "Fine. But we're only going to the bog."

Which is what we did, with a small detour to check out their study site and the progress on the under-construction timber-frame classroom.

The bog was beautiful in October--everything's gone red, with a few ripe cranberries here and there (and a few raisin-like leftover huckleberries) and little plugs of ice in the throats of the pitcher plants. It's a place that seems like it belongs in some remote wilderness, not just a few miles from our house. I kept waiting for a moose to wander into the scene. There are miles of trails left to explore. I'll have to think of ways to get those boys out and hiking with me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


The leaves are turning fast these days.

Everything's golden and orange and red and bronze.

It's that time of year when time seems to be going by extra-fast.

Like if you don't hurry up and enjoy it, life will just pass you by.

We learned recently (from a Ranger Rick magazine) that if you put your ear to an aspen tree, you can hear a sound like a cross between wind chimes and water running through rusty old pipes in a vacant building (I can't believe I grew up in Colorado and never knew this).

We were almost too late to try it out, before the leaves fell off the aspen trees, but now we can't stop putting our ear to every tree we pass. It works best with trees about four to six inches in diameter, with plenty of leaves, in a good wind. We've found that birch and maple make a sound too (but with a different timbre), but oak not so much.

Meanwhile, Z sits under maple trees and waits for a leaf to fall so he can catch it before it hits the ground.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A New Hiking Trail

Saturday afternoon, the boys, their friend, and I braved the mist and gray skies and hit the trail at a new hiking spot not too far from home. Early on, the trail comes across this Stonehenge-type edifice, which made for a great source of entertainment (and bickering).

The four-mile loop was the perfect length for an afternoon, and just enough to tire the boys out so they quit the bickering. And it was the perfect time of year to enjoy the maple-dominant forest--beautiful changing leaves and even a small stand of flowering witch-hazel, which I forgot to photograph. I wondered to myself why we hadn't hiked more over the summer, and then at one point we passed a swampy area and I remembered--oh, yeah, that's what's so nice about hiking in the fall--no bugs.

The glowering skies never let loose rain, and we finished the hike with dry shoes and topped it off with a trip to the apple orchard for a jug of cider and a bag of apples before heading home.
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