Thursday, April 16, 2015




“Liepard is the evolved form of Purrloin, mommy,” explains Pickle. “She’s in Team Rocket.” Except from the mouth of my three-year-old, it’s more like “Team Wocket”.

“Oh?” I lean in to see the images she’s pointing to as we flip through the pages of the Pokemon stats and facts book that she had deliberately picked out for herself from her sister’s school book sale.




She goes to bed with it every evening, and since she can’t read, she tries to find pictures of the characters she encounters on the TV show and makes up her own stories, which explains why the book is worn and taped in several spots. When asked to pick a bedtime story, she’d prefer to point at different characters and have me read their specs aloud to her instead, which I do:

“Zorua, Tricky Fox Pokemon, Possible Moves - Scratch, Leer, Pursuit, Fake Tears, Fury Swipes, Feint Attack, Scary Face, Taunt, Foul Play, Torment… Zorua can use the power of illusion to make itself look like a person or a different Pokemon.  It sometimes uses the resulting confusion to flee from a battle. It’s the pre-evolved form of Zoroark.”

I sometimes explain to her what she doesn’t understand, but for the most part, she gets it. She beams at me and shares what she recalls about Zorua, one of her favorite characters, on the show, “One time, Zorua and Ash went to…”

I am thrilled that she’s enthralled by these creatures. For one thing, it’s Goodbye “Frozen”, Hello Pokemon. After a year of constant “Let it Go”’s I’m so relieved that they finally Let. It. Go. I’m also amused to see that she’s rather Pokemon-ish herself - adorable, feisty, and capable of destruction all in one cuddly little package.

My girls’ obsession with Pokemon is a welcome change from many years of overtly didactic, educational PBS shows that teach and entertain kids (the color red, the letter “T”, be kind to your neighbors, etc.).  It reminds me of the cartoons I used to enjoy growing up, like “Voltron”, “He-Man”, “She-Ra”, and “Thundercats”. Sure, kids don’t learn their shapes and alphabets from good versus evil battles, but there’s something to be said about stories of friendship and loyalty.

Besides, how many three-year-olds have a vocabulary that includes “capture”, “strategy”, “transform” and “evolve”, which Pickle has surprisingly used correctly in different contexts? Evolve is an especially great word. I think it’s because it hits so close to home for me these days.

I love seeing this evolved form of Little Miss and Pickle, going from playing Disney’s damsels to powerful Pokemons when they’re together. Adorable little things don’t have to be helpless is a subtle lesson from the show, but an important one nonetheless.

And I like that, after a year in Austin, we have all evolved into slightly different versions of ourselves. The changes are minor, but the effects ripple across our everyday lives.

If you’d told me a year ago that I would spend most of my weekends on yard work, I’d laugh at your face. But here we are, toiling away - weeding, mowing, planting, watering - to do our best to transform (hey, another Pokemon word!) the yard from its dormant state in the winter to a vibrant, productive one in the summer. 


Last year we inherited a vegetable garden, which we only needed to water before enjoying the fresh tomatoes and peppers that the previous owners had planted. This time, we decided to be more ambitious and went with tomatoes, jalapenos, sweet cherry peppers, sugar snap peas, watermelon, and spaghetti squash, not to mention the myriad herbs that appear in the dishes I make. I know - what happened to baby steps right? We figured hey, if we killed half of it, we’d still have a decent yield. Hah.


Since a house with a yard this size still feels new to us, we have much to learn, and we recognize that we can’t do that without getting our hands dirty. We spent the year studying what we already have - the grass, the trees, the irrigation, the hedges, the delightful perennials (and the awful ones too), and the beautiful rose bush that continues to wow us, especially when it sprang to life with such gorgeous blooms after the winter, despite the fact that we hardly touched it (maybe that’s the key). Now that we (kinda, sorta) know what we’re dealing with, it’s time for us to add our own touch to it.



The yard feels like it, too, is evolving. To be honest, I’m nervous but also really excited to see what it will become in our hands.

Because of my recent conundrum with running, I’ve also had to evolve in other ways. I surprised myself by becoming the runner I never thought I could be nearly three years ago, but with a busted hip, it may be time for a change again, even if I hate the idea.

As a consolation, my sweet friends reminded me that if I could fall in love with running, I could do the same with another activity - I just need to give something else a shot. And they’re right. My pre-evolved form couldn’t even imagine running a mile, let alone a half-marathon, so why not wrestling? Or rowing? Maybe even Javelin throwing?

As for Little Miss, she started soccer again after a failed attempt at age four, when she hated “all that running” and chose to admire the dandelions in the field instead. Now her burgeoning interest in running is fueling her enjoyment of soccer, and it’s lovely to see her so excited about a sport. Neither My Guy nor I were athletes in school, and it’s easy for us to let that part slide, but I’m realizing that not only is cheering for my girl on the field fun, it’s also thrilling to watch her learn the merits of teamwork and losing graciously, especially since Little Miss had always been a me-me-me girl who couldn’t handle not winning at any game.


I notice the difference in her: high-fiving with big smiles after a game despite losing terribly, emphasizing on the fun rather than the competition, learning not to boss her teammates around and accepting that the coach is boss, not her. She’s also more likely to get outside and play now, shooting hoops and practicing soccer with her daddy. It’s great to see her evolving into an active little girl, although the moment we get back in the car, she’s back to her usual self again.



And I’m okay with that too. Naturally.

I believe some things stay the same to keep us grounded. I will never be an extroverted go-getter like My Guy, nor do I want to be. But then again, I had also said I’d never be a runner.

This brings me back to the “Dear Sugar” podcast I heard while running, when Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond both said in their advice to a reader wondering about the state of her relationship that “the years are long” - we are constantly changing, growing, evolving. What we were 10 years ago can be radically different from who we are today. Hell, even a year ago. And I am proof of that.

I’ve written about change before, firmly believing that it’s never too late for any of us to try new things, break old habits, become someone we never thought we could be. It’s this constant evolving that makes every spring so compelling while we watch the natural world come back to life. Some things remain the same, but having survived the harshest parts of winter, they’re also different. Hardier, better.

These were the first perennial I planted last year, and I was pleasantly surprised to see them come back this spring. Not only that, they seem bigger and stronger.


I am in awe. After years of thinking that all I have are brown thumbs, it’s lovely to discover that there may be a gardener in me after all. What an incredible evolution. I still have a lot to learn, of course, like how I probably shouldn’t be wearing white while doing yard work, for one. But I’m at least ready to see how far I can go with this.


As I watch my friends share where they were or what they did one, three, five years ago a certain day on Facebook, thanks to its latest feature that prompts users to share a significant moment from a past post, it makes me wonder, where, or more importantly, who will I be one, three, five years from now?

What about you? Who will you be?




“Explore, experiment and evolve your beautiful world.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita

Friday, April 10, 2015

You can’t always get what you want

So what happens when you’re told that something you love is also the same thing that’s hurting you? I know this could be applied to many things, but in my case, it’s running. After enduring a year of nagging hip pain, I finally bit the bullet and went to the doctor with my issues.

The news wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.

“Do you have to run?”
“I don’t have to but I would like to…”

“Then no running on hills and paved roads” was my Physical Therapist’s advice. Which means I pretty much have to kiss neighborhood running goodbye, and that SUCKS because one of my favorite things about running is just lacing up and getting out the door. Plus I really do love my neighborhood and enjoy being able to spot the fall colors and spring blossoms all around me, so having to end this pains me even more than what I feel in my hips. 




You don’t get these from working out inside a gym…


My PT also pointed out that I have no arches in my feet. Flat-footed? Me? How is it that I hadn’t known that all these years? She said it affects the way I run, which must have affected my hips. She hasn’t quite figured out what exactly is wrong with them - we’ve only had three sessions so far - but she warned against continuing as I have because it would mean surgery, and who wants to go down that road?

I took her advice seriously and started to cut down on running and looked to other cardio activities. I tried many group classes at my gym and settled on Zumba (I love dancing; it’s so fun!) and Cardio Combat (makes me feel like a badass!), but when I reported that to my PT, she shook her head: “Nope. These classes have too many repetitive motions that will continue to hurt your hips.”

What. The. Fuck.

How ironic that my quest for better health is actually detrimental to my health. Before I started running, I don’t even remember ever having to go to the doctor for any medical issues. However, I knew the risks of running before I started; it was just wishful thinking that I could avoid them.

I signed up for a 10-mile race back in October, and I informed my PT that it would be my last long-distance run for awhile. It was the Austin 10/20 - 10 miles, 20 bands - and I ran it with a fellow mom who’d been my Sunday morning running partner this past year. I knew I couldn’t push it, but it was also important to me that I finish this race.

I’m glad I did it because it was a really fun race, but that last mile was painful. Literally. My hips started to hurt, then my knees, and finally my ankles. Man did I feel broken. But there was only a mile to go, and I just couldn’t stop then. Having my partner there to cheer me on got me through the finish line (thank you!). You can imagine how fantastic that felt, especially since I wasn’t sure if there would be another like this in my future.



After 10 days of rest, I ran again yesterday, but I followed my PT’s instructions to find a flat gravel trail and attempted a few slow miles. I drove to a neighborhood park with a small wooded trail and aimed for three miles, but it felt so good that I easily reached four. My hips weren’t crying for help, so perhaps there’s hope yet for keeping running in my life.


This nagging pain may still be a mystery, but I’m wearing orthotics to fix my flat feet (and secretly thanking the stars that they’re looking more fashionable these days than the old-lady shoes of the past) and I’m (begrudgingly) avoiding hills and paved roads when I do run.


My daily arch-support footwear around the house. Could be worse I suppose.

I haven’t given up on finding something to fill the running void for when I absolutely have to stop, but I’m hoping that that day wouldn’t come either. I can fathom taking a break, especially during the summer when it’s hot all day and night here, but I can’t imagine stopping altogether.

My girls are starting to show interest in running, and I’d like to continue for their sake. I don’t think it’s the only way to get healthy, but to me, running is more than just cardio. It’s the fresh air that fills my lungs, the scenery that both enthralls and surprises me, the solitude as an escape, and even the meditative effect of a long run that, apart from cycling, which isn’t my thing, I just can’t get from other activities.

And that’s why I’m doing what I can to preserve what little I can do because I hate to be told I can’t do something, and I love a challenge. So we’ll see.

I’m just not ready to give up on it yet. I just hope my body doesn’t give up on me first.

Monday, March 23, 2015

One Year in Austin

A year ago today, we arrived in town late in the evening after driving over eight hours on the second leg of our journey here from Chicago. It was nearly 9PM, and the sun had set nearly two hours ago, making it impossible for us to see anything but the road ahead and the neon signs that we occasionally passed.

We found the apartment we would call home for the next two months and set up for the night after some takeout from the nearby Noodles and Company. We were too tired to venture further than what was right by us, and because we were there right at closing, they even offered us free cookies. Bonus!

I’m not sure who was more excited about getting out of the car - the cats or us - but we managed to spend a few more minutes exploring our new fully furnished, very neutral, very brown and beige apartment before succumbing to the fatigue that came with three days of traveling. What an anticlimactic end to six weeks of wild anticipation.

Except I was wrong, wasn’t I? It wasn’t the end; it was only the beginning.

And the thrill and majesty of this beginning didn’t hit us until we decided to go out for breakfast tacos at Torchy’s the next day, a quintessential Austin thing. We took a right on the Capital of Texas Highway, going south, and our jaws dropped at the sight of the hills that lined both sides of the highway. For two people from pancake-flat Chicago, any undulation was a big deal. When we drove here the night before, we couldn’t see any of it - we had no idea we were surrounded by such pretty scenery.

That was the first thing that struck us about Austin - just how green the city is. Between pockets of neighborhoods are large swaths of greenbelts that afford us a quick reprieve from urban life, and I find myself drawn to them despite my city-girl prissiness.

Then it was the tacos. Well, not just tacos, but food in general. This city enjoys its food, but because we have access to year-round growers, there is also plenty of Texas pride in food sourcing.

Speaking of Texas pride, there’s plenty of that going around here, naturally. It’s unnerving to a newcomer like me because what’s so damn great about a state full of guns, Republicans and the religious right? But over time I realized that this pride isn’t just reserved for those people. It’s in how the people in this state preserve nature, bottle their own spirits, build a local business (hello, HEB), grow their own...everything, cook their BBQ, treasure their place in history and pass it down to the next generation - not just the story of Texas but also the pride of belonging.

It doesn’t get anymore Texas than bluebonnets and UT-Austin

For transplants looking to plant roots, there’s just something about it that works for me.

And the weather. Oh the weather. We moved here to get away from the harsh Chicago winters, so we knew to expect a more temperate climate, but what we didn’t expect was just how glorious it would be from Fall to Spring. Sure, we’d have some cold days in the winter, which was perfect for snuggling by the fire, but we’d still experience 60- to 70-degree days every couple of weeks, which was a far cry from always fucking frigid for weeks and weeks at a time for at least four straight months up north.


Summer can be brutal, but then again, it’s also pool season so who cares?

Today we met with who we jokingly refer to as the Original Friends - the three families we got to know within the first month of our move here - to celebrate our Austiniversary. It was at a restaurant with a playground, where our kids were either playing with each other or with other kids. The grownups sat at two tables outside under a giant oak tree with one eye on the kids while we chatted about our spring break and what not.

Topics ranged from vacations to cars to SXSW to sickness to a Taylor Swift concert road trip (don’t ask) to school to work to the amazing weather. Then we said our goodbyes and made plans to meet at one of the Original Friend’s homes for a BBQ next weekend before rushing home for the bedtime - bath, books and songs - ritual.

While the girls played in the tub, I walked out to my yard and laughed at the sight of the dandelions in my yard that sprouted from this last spell of rain. I never knew they could grow that tall.

Then I turned and spotted our “Yellow Rose of Texas” by our front window and stood there in awe of it - how the plant survived the frosty winter nights and my lack of attention was beyond me. But it’s native to this region; it would naturally make it here.



Unlike us. Even as the movers hauled our belongings into the truck, even as we drove 1,100 miles towards our new life, I wasn’t too confident that this would be the place for us. After all, three out of the four of us had never even been to Austin before we arrived with our worldly possessions.

But despite the brutal summer heat, the minor setbacks, the homesickness for Chicago, the lack of snow, the fact that we’re in Texas (but hey, Austin really isn’t Texas-Texas is it?), the abundance of wildlife just in our neighborhood, let alone the area, we made it.

And we didn’t just survive our first year here, we’re loving it. My girls are blooming where they’re planted, and I feel our roots growing deeper into this once foreign soil with each passing day.



I would’ve stayed outside to enjoy a few more moments of my reverie had it not been for a certain three-year-old who walked out naked in search of her mother. After one last look at the expansive coral tinged Texas sky, I followed her back into the house for the rest of our Sunday evening.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Best laid plans

I don’t know why SXSW thought it was a good time to have the event right at Spring Break, but what can you do? The powers that be have spoken, and we’re stuck in the city because My Guy has been dying to attend SX (Southby to us locals, apparently) ever since I’ve known him. That also means I’m solo parenting. That, in itself, isn’t so daunting. Nothing I haven’t done before, and without the frenetic school schedule, it should be fun!

I planned on hiking a low-key trail with my girls on a sunny 70-degree day (because there would be a few of those during the break - yay!). I hoped to use our membership at the Thinkery one morning, and then a jaunt to the contemporary art museum, Laguna Gloria, for the free art day so the girls can explore the different media available at the art school there and the beautiful grounds that offer hiking trails, river views and interesting sculptures along the way. 


screen printing






LagunaGloria Pickle playing coy behind me





I had also hoped to watch the third installment of the Harry Potter movie series with Little Miss and take her to the movie theater to see “Song of the Sea” on another day. It will be a “Mommy and Me” special.

In between those, we’d have playdates with friends, and since our gym has family yoga and family Zumba during the break, Little Miss and I would be going to the gym together every day. By the end of the break, it would’ve felt like a proper Spring Break - Fun! Sun! Family!

That was the plan anyway. It’s Wednesday now, and so far, of the things I’d listed, we’ve done one - Laguna Gloria - because what I had hoped for us was one thing; what actually unfolded was quite another.

You see, sickness happened. 103-degree fever happened. For both girls. Then croup happened, for one of them. It’s also their first time being sick together, when they’d usually take turns after one infects the other. All this while My Guy goes out for 12 hours every day for Southby, while we also host two guests staying with us for the event, and while I juggle my freelance work deadlines.

Naturally, plans were derailed. My Guy had to take time away from his highly anticipated event to help me care for the girls because of my deadlines, and because sick kids are also extremely needy. Not quite the fun and exciting spring break I had in mind for us.

But we’ve been parents long enough to know what happens to best laid plans when kids are involved. We learn to create Plans A, B, and C, just in case. We learn to suck it up and deal with it.  Easier said than done, of course, because it can also be stressful and upsetting.

Yet, what choice do we have? We can sit around and mope or we can choose to make the best out of a shitty situation, which is why I am resolved on focusing on the things that make me happy.

I make healing, comfort foods - chicken noodle soup, pork and ginger rice soup - for my babies. I allow myself to be flanked by my girls on the couch as we read or just cuddle. I’m grateful that my girls like each other enough to play well with one another. But that also means sometimes they make mischief together. Like when I found them grinning at me suspiciously here - they had emptied out a couple of drawers of clothes and hid them under blankets to make the mound on the bed. For jumping. Like it’s so safe. (No one got hurt! See? Another bright spot to our week.)



Why are you guys smiling at me like that..?

I also get to spend time in the yard collecting a crapload of live oak leaves that, unlike its regular oak cousin, sheds in the spring. Sure it’s an arduous task, but it feels oddly therapeutic. It probably has something to do with the warm sun, the bird songs and fresh air.


 Leaves, be gone! (Except there are now more on the ground again. Ugh!)


One of my favorite parts of the week was watching Little Miss spend six straight hours re-reading Harry Potter one day. Granted, I was a little jealous. Oh the joy of being able to dive into a good book uninterrupted for hours and hours in the middle of the day. When I do that now, I’m often sacrificing precious sleep.



And Pickle did what she normally does - raid our pantry every two hours (yes, even when sick, this girl doesn’t ever seem to lose her appetite) and decorate everything with glitter glue. Because you can never have too much glitter. Don’t ask me why it’s even within her reach; sometimes I astound myself too.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, even in sickness my three-year-old tries to avoid napping. One afternoon, I found her passed out on the floor after she spent most of naptime playing in the room. As much as she loves fighting naps, she doesn’t always win.



When evening (FINALLY) arrives, I do like that bedtime is a little earlier for ailing girls, which works out nicely for this exhausted mama.

But then we get to do it all over again the next day when one girl comes into our room barking like a seal (hello, croup) and the thermometer confirms the fever that we suspect from the heat radiating from their little bodies. Another day of balancing precariously in that delicate space between hope and disappointment, work and play, light and dark. Wishing that maybe, just maybe tomorrow will be better. Or the next. Or the next next.


In the meantime, I make a big-ass pan of brownies to try to salvage this Spring Break that has offered neither a spring in my step nor a break from the neverending demands. (*shakes fist at the sky*) My girls probably thought, aww, mommy’s so nice, she’s trying to cheer us up. And maybe it’s working.





Although, between you and me, once they’re in bed, I’m going to relax on the couch with my feet on the coffee table, the pan of brownies on my lap and a spoon in my hand. That’s the plan anyway. But we all know what can happen to that.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Big news: Nothing happened!

Yup. That pretty much sums up the day when Austin decided to close its schools on Thursday. My phone was buzzing all of the previous day with emails from the school, the preschool, the school district and winter storm warnings. Apparently the freezing rain would only get worse. Even state and federal offices would shut down.

Ice is a problem down here, and with the many hills, bridges, and overpasses in the area, traveling on the road becomes treacherous, especially for school buses. I get that. I want my kids home safe with me too. And honestly, not going out on a cold and blustery morning to drop off my kids was just fine by me.

But when we woke the next day, the day of the supposed winter storm, this happened instead.


IMG_0374 Does this look like a stormy winter day to you?


Sure, it hovered in the low 30’s all morning, but it reached a high of 43. It was windy and chilly, but the ice that was forecasted to disrupt travel was nowhere in sight. Geez, people, overreact much? Meteorologists, I tell ya. They’re the only people I know who get to keep their job despite being wrong half the time.

The kids were of course over the moon to be home. No school, yay! We can sleep in! (They didn’t). We can stay in our pajamas! (Naturally.) I would’ve shared their enthusiasm except for that pesky little thing called a deadline. Ah yes, the age-old working parent’s dilemma: How do I watch the kids and write the pieces that were due to my client at the same time?

And today, I figured it out - HAVE FREAKIN’ AMAZING KIDS!

Okay, okay, I know, I know, I deserved that eye-roll because every parent says that about their kids. Believe me, my kids are a pain in my ass most days, but today, I have to give credit where credit is due. Last night I said to them: “Hey, I know it’s great to stay home from school, but the only way that it’s going to work well tomorrow is that you find a way to play well together because mommy has to work. I’m sorry that I can’t hang out with you guys, because you know I’d really, really love to, but I just can’t since it’s my regular work day and my client needs something from me. Will you try to play well with each other?”

I threw the words out there, not really knowing if they’d stick. They both nodded, which isn’t exactly binding, so I didn’t keep my hopes up.

But HOLY SHIT THEY DID IT! They totally did it! I was amazed at just how much and how well they played together. Most days, by 9:30AM, someone was already screaming at the other, but today, the stars must have aligned because not only was there barely an argument, they actually enjoyed one another’s company!

I set up shop at the dining table to keep an eye on them, thankful that I could usually tune out chaos, but apart from a few “look at this, mommy” interruptions to show me the results of their various creative pursuits, I was able to immerse myself in work while they did at play. I looked up occasionally to marvel at them: They’re still playing? And of course I had to take pictures. Evidence, ya know.  Because I still can’t believe that it happened.

Naturally, they made a mess, but who cares? They were actually playing with their toys and giggling! (And they happily put these away afterwards.)


Little Miss patiently explained “Go Fish” to her three-year-old sister, and they harmoniously played a game or two together. (This was about the time I was pinching myself.)



And their new favorite thing to do together? Clean up their mess to surprise me!

Yes, “for real,” as Pickle would say. Don’t hate me; I don’t even know how this became a regular thing, but you won’t find me complaining about this new “game” of theirs, where they would disappear for a long while together, then they’d come find us, have us close our eyes while they led us to their bedroom, the living room or playroom and yell: “SURPRISE!”


We would find toys and craft items back in their spots, books put away, beds made, clothes in’s the best kind of surprise, and I love that both parties actually derive so much pleasure from this. For me, I’m just so delighted and grateful for their effort, and for them, they’re just so proud of their contribution and happy to see us happy.

Today, Little Miss trembled with excitement as they led me to their bedroom, where Pickle gleefully announced, “Ta-dah! We cleaned our room!” but immediately added: “But don’t look under our beds!”

Fair enough. I didn’t. With six- and three-year-olds, you figure out pretty quickly to steer clear of the gift horse’s mouth.

Here’s another thing that blew me away today. Remember how I always long for them to play outside? Today, after running in circles around me in the afternoon and jumping over hurdles that they had purposely made for themselves in the living and dining rooms, I finally kicked them out of the house. “If you want to run around and play, get your shoes and jacket on, and do it outside!” Like normal kids, I added in my head.

After some minor protesting, they did comply. The clear blue sky was a little deceptive; no matter how beautiful it looked, it was still a little chilly. I expected them to come back in within five minutes, whining about the cold. But they didn’t. In fact, they stayed outside for what felt like hours, and played and played and played and played. Who are these kids???!


My view of them just hanging out in the front yard from where I was working; don’t mind the phone reflection – I never claimed I was a pro photographer.

In the evening, at their bedtime, they crawled into bed by 7:15PM, and after I shut their bedroom door behind me, no one called out to me or came back outside to use the bathroom, to have more water, to give me one last hug, to ask “what’s that sound?”, to check if daddy’s home yet. On a day where they played hard, they also crashed hard.

I’d like to call this a miracle of a day, but really, if I think about it, a lot has to do with the fact that the girls are getting older. As much as it pains me to see that cute baby part of them go, on days like this, having older, independent kids completely saved the day. They had a wonderful time away from school, and I got my work done.

“I think we’re finally reaching that sweet spot,” My Guy said to me, “The girls are getting to the age where they’ll give us five or six really good years of being pretty cool kids.”

Curious, I asked: “Five or six? Why just five or six?”

“Well, then they become teens.”

“Oh. Right.” Tumultuous, tempestuous teens. Shudder.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. If the next five or six years will give us more days like today, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of them first.


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