Sunday, September 22, 2019

Familia Guzman by the Numbers

Ed and I just celebrated another wedding anniversary and so I thought I should update our family numbers:

18: Years of Marriage
2: Languages Spoken in our home
4: Cities We've Lived in (Portland twice, NYC, DC, Seattle)
7: Homes we have lived in
5: Full-time Jobs (Ed)
2: Full-time Jobs (Jen)
2: Cars we've owned
9: K-12 schools the kids have attended in total (I am so not proud of that number)
3: K-12 schools the kids have attended together
(in comparison) 4: K-12 schools ALL 5 of me and my siblings attended
5: Sports kids have participated in
3: Instruments played
27: States we have traveled together as a family
9: National parks we have traveled together as a family
2: Foreign countries we have visited (also not proud of this but we got the kids passports this summer and we're busy planning some trips)
3: Times my kids have thrown up since they were babies (two this month alone!)
3: Hospital Visits (lucky)
1: Life-threatening allergy
Infinity: Number of autism-related therapy visits
200%: The amount our monthly grocery bill has gone up over the last four years (no joke).

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Noé's Secret School Life

We were on vacation this summer, somewhere along the Northern California coast, lurking among the giant Redwoods. We had just parked at a trail head to do some more exploring when a red, sporty convertible pulled up beside our sensible Honda CRV. It was driven by a middle-aged man in sunglasses with a huge happy-lappy dog in the backseat. I was fetching empty pop cans from the car, trying to avoid eye contact, as we had taken the final parking spot in the lot and the sporty convertible was probably annoyed with us. Noé popped out of his seat and I heard an audible gasp coming from the convertible, followed by a loud, "Noé!"

Huh? We were hundreds of miles from home!

I turned around and convertible guy introduced himself to me as Joe, one of the vice principals at Noé's high school. We chatted and introduced Asher, who would be attending the school next year, then he took off (since we had taken the last parking spot and all....whoops. It seemed really awkward to offer it up at that point?)

I was relaying this story to Noé's lead teacher, Ashlee, yesterday. Noé and I were at the school to register and get his student body card and TriMet pass and to tour the new school (Noé attended a temporary school building across town during the remodel, part of the reason I did not recognize convertible guy as school administration).

"Wow... I was just so impressed that he knew Noé by name! It is such a big school," I told Ashlee.


And then she told me the story of Noé's secret school life:

Last year was Noé's freshman year, and he was mostly enrolled in special education classes. The special education program is large enough that he was able to switch classes each period, just like a general education student. Noé did well with the transitions and quickly learned his way around the school, so his teachers started to let him travel to his classes independently.

However, he never seemed to make it to his class period directly before lunch. His teacher would inform the office, and inevitably VP Joe was sent out to hunt for Noé and send him to class. The first time he didn't show up for class his teachers and VP Joe were in a complete panic. "Maybe we had let him be independent too early in the school year," they worried.

But Noé was quickly located. He was found.... and this will not be a surprise to anyone who knows him... in the lunchroom inhaling an early lunch.

And every subsequent time he didn't show up for class, he was found... in the lunchroom. So yes, VP Joe got to know Noé very well.

Apparently his teachers tried all kinds strategies to help him remember to go to class and not the lunchroom, but nothing worked. The problem was they were assuming that Noé was misunderstanding his school schedule. But there was no misunderstanding - he was choosing lunch over class. It was his very own version of ditching class!

We have these types of problems with Noé constantly and I am always reminded of what my friend Ami once said about him, "Noé just does what everyone else really wants to." Yeah, he's kind-of my hero that way.

As Ashlee relayed this story, so much of last school year suddenly made sense. I felt like I was putting money into Noé's lunch account every week and when I finally sat down and did the math, he was buying an average of two lunches every day. Turns out he was buying early lunch and then regular lunch on my dime.

I also received regular school alerts informing me that Noé had been marked absent from class. But only one class per day. Yet I knew he was at school...

I decided not to contact his teachers about Noé's magically-disappearing lunch account balance or the mysterious absences. They are an amazing group of dedicated educators and terribly overworked. Noé was thriving at school. I would let the small stuff go. But I have to admit that I would find myself wondering about it this summer at random times. Mystery solved,  Noé has a secret school life in the cafeteria.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Fake Pact

Shortly after Noé was diagnosed with autism, I made a fake pact with God that I would not have to endure children who threw up. It seemed fair - I had a long row to hoe with Noé and having puke-y kids would just be over the top.

And then neither of my kids ever threw up and my fake pact magically became real.

They NEVER threw up! A mom friend would lament how their kid had puked on their face in the middle of the night. Or another friend might apologize for arriving late to something, "I had to clean up vomit from the car." I would give them a sympathetic, knowing look.

But I was such a fraud. My kids had never yaked in the car or in my hair or anywhere! I could never admit this to anyone. I feared losing serious mom cred. I feared saying the words aloud would invalidate the fake pact. So I stayed silent. And grateful.

Mid-morning last Friday, Noé was at camp and I was frantically catching up on paid work. I had only been able to sign Noé up for one week of camp this summer and I felt the clock ticking on my work productivity until I could ship him back to school. And then my phone rang. I let the call go to voice mail as I had a strong suspicion that it was someone from Noé's camp and I wasn't ready to face that reality. A minute or five later, I listened to the voice mail, steadying myself to hear that Noé refused to drink water or put on sunscreen or was touching a female counselor's bare leg (it's a sensory thing, I swear!)

"We are at the Tualatin Wildlife Refuge and Noé just threw up in the visitor's center bathroom. You need to come and get him as soon as possible," the director of his camp explained into my iPhone.

Wrong kid, I thought. I'll call him back and explain that Noé never throws up because I have a pact with God.

After making the director repeat back a physical description of Noé, it was determined that he had thrown up in the sink of the women's bathroom (that's actually when I knew for sure.....he always mixes up the men's and women's restrooms).

On the way home, he threw up again in the car, officially making The Pact null and void. Twenty-four hours later, Ed and I  had survived our first stomach flu. Our car still faintly smells of puke, the house has been disinfected, and I'll never have to fake a look of sympathy to a parent who has just endured cleaning up their kid's chunks again.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Favorite Things, Summer 2019 Edition

Aside from my occasional meltdowns from dealing with Noé and his many needs all summer long, and a seemingly never-ending existential crisis about my career trajectory, this summer has been pretty great. The weather has been sunny but not too hot, no wildfire smoke (yet), and I have a mellow work schedule and a beautiful new yard to enjoy. We haven't traveled, aside from a trip down to the Bay Area, but we are all now officially in possession of passports and we are planning an international adventure this winter (TBD).

Here are some of my favorite things so far this summer:

1. Running or working out in the morning sunshine then coming home and consuming a huge hunk of ice cold watermelon.

2. Taking Noe out for bike rides in the evening around our neighborhood. Ed rides ahead and scouts for oncoming traffic and I keep him "boxed in" to the right of me on my bike. I can tell he loves the independence of being on his own bike. It is such a huge accomplishment for him!

3. Riding Noé through the local McDonalds drive-through for an ice cream cone on the RadWagon for a treat after he's finished his work for the day. I really hate McDonalds but Noe loves their ice cream cones, and as a bonus, it is really fun to annoy the McDonalds managers with our bike order. Then we ride over to Grant Park to enjoy the splash pad at the Beverly Cleary character statues.

4. Poking around my garden in the early morning light. Finding a hidden cucumber or zucchini under the leaf canopy - it's like finding a pot of gold.

5. Listening to Asher play the pianos at the local parks, especially the one at Mt. Tabor that overlooks downtown. When we go in the evening, the sun is setting and the light is gorgeous. Watching the crowds gather around him and film him with their cameras. Asher acting shy but loving the attention even more than the occasional tip he receives from a fan.

6. Eating most of our evening meals at our new table on the back deck. Playing cards or cornhole afterwards. Lingering with our conversations until we have to turn the lights on and light the candles, and not really caring if the neighbors hear us.

7. Not setting an early alarm.

8.  Biking to dinner or brunch around town with Easy Ed.

9. Walking along various Oregon beaches and just staring out at the water. I can count a hundred shades of blue.

10. The evening we got our sh*t together in time to catch a MAX up to Washington Park and pull out a blanket and snacks and listen to some great live jazz. Afterwards, we walked around The Rose Garden and retold our engagement and found a piano for Asher to play before riding the train home.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Serious People

I am reading this gem of a middle reader book. I'm not sure exactly why I like reading from the MR and YA section, but I do. There are a ton of great books for kids to read these days. I'd like to think the quality of writing has improved since I was a MR and YA.

While the book is mostly about a girl named Merci (Mercedes) and her changing relationship with her family amidst her grandfather's dementia, as well as surviving 6th grade at a private school, there is a quieter subtext of growing up as working class immigrant Cuban-American family.

One phrase that pops up continuously in family conversations is being "serious people." Familia Suarez is always worried about being perceived as "serious people" by the rest of the community. Merci is constantly reminded by her parents to be a "serious person."

A serious person seems to be defined as someone who is ambitious, engaged with their studies or work, reliable, and always doing what they are supposed to be doing in the place where they are supposed to be. I never felt the push to be a "serious person." I might even have felt more pressure at times to be the opposite.

But the hearing the phrase echoed throughout the book made me suddenly understand some things about Ed and his family and some of their behaviors that confounded me for so many years.

~ When we go out to a restaurant and The Abuelos order way too much food, or the most expensive item on the menu, to show they belong there.

~ Ed has always dresses up for work: clean-shaved face, dress shirt ironed and starched, slacks, dress shoes shined, even when working in the newsroom slums where half the staff couldn't be bothered to find non-flip flop shoes to wear to work (I'm looking at you Oregonian). I never really got why he felt he needed to look so professional all of the time.

~ The Abuelos constantly sending the kids dress clothes (no two boys have ever owned so many polo shirts and ties) and Abuela's constant nagging that I iron all of their clothes (I do not), and their obsession with the kids' grades and college, even as they never made it through middle school.

~ Casa Guzman adorned with American flags. They even have a bumper sticker on their SUV they received from the LAPD stating they contributed to some police compensation fund.

The list goes on....but the bottom line is that they still struggle to feel comfortable in this country they've lived in for almost half a century. On many levels, they feel like visitors that need to impress in order to keep their invitation.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Come Hike with Familia Guzman

Hiking Observation Point at Zion National Park. A family that
hikes together......

I don't treat our family blog as a journal on purpose. I know it would make me feel constantly behind, and writing would quickly become a chore rather than an escape. So, I miss a lot of family events on here. For instance, last month for Spring Break we spent a fun week in Los Angeles visiting The Abuelos. We had perfect weather, great visits with family and friends, and California was greener than I'd ever seen her. One day we snuck out of East LA and hiked Malibu Canyon in full spring bloom. We saw remnants of the fall forest fires highlighted by bright green undergrowth and we remembered those same hills from episodes of MASH filmed on location decades earlier.

And last weekend, we camped at Cape Disappointment, just north of Astoria on the Washington side of the Columbia River. And we took a spectacular hike up to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. We were alone on the lush green coastal trails, and the route offered gorgeous views of the beaches and river below.

Hiking is woven throughout our family life. It is something we can all do together. It is something we all enjoy doing, especially when there is a promise of a post-hike treat. It requires very little equipment -a huge bonus for our minimalist lifestyle. We are lucky to live in a place where hiking is easy to get out and do, and is also extremely rewarding. It doesn't take much driving or effort to find amazing trails and scenery. It gets us moving, off the couch and out of our heads - good for both the teens and middle-aged among us.

And for me, it is just the bit of adventure that I crave. I love the splash of nerves and adrenaline I experience before beginning a new trail. I never know what lies ahead….will there be steep edges? Wild animal encounters? Will it be peaceful or crowded? Will Noe get poison oak again from his insistence on touching all the plants?

Some of our best family hikes by our various residences …  

Everything was a hike in NYC. But with babies, no actual forest in the city and no car access, we were not hikers during this time in our lives.


  1. Appalachian Trail via Shenandoah National Park, our first real non-urban hike as a young family.
  2. Theodore Roosevelt Island - the perfect hike with toddlers, just minutes from downtown DC and the Mall.
  3. Reston Trails - Reston was a special place to live. A suburb that felt some parts suburb, some parts urban center and a few more parts rugged wilderness. The trail from Walker Nature Center to the lake was a favorite and just minutes from our home. I also learned to appreciate the beauty of winter hiking on these trails, especially all the opportunities to spot birds on bare winter tree branches.
  4. Great Falls - the trail system wasn’t extensive and it was always crowded, but the waterfalls were very beautiful and also a short drive from our home. 
Washington State
  1. Rattlesnake Ridge, just east of Seattle
  2. Mt. Constitution Trail, on Orcas Island
  3. Lava Canyon Trail and the suspension bridge! near Mt. St. Helens
  4. Discovery Park - we hiked it extensively and often, but a specific hike on a gloriously sunny January 2018 day with the snowcapped mountains in full view with the Sound below us helps vault this urban nature park onto our “best” list.
  5. Carkeek Park - We also knew these trails inside and out, but they were especially glorious in the fall when the salmon were spawning

Props to my Best Seattle Friend Julie for getting me on the Washington trails with my kids and teaching me how to get them to hike long distances.  Hint: candy


We are just getting started in Oregon, but here are a few of our favorites from visits over the years:

  1. Eagle Cap Wilderness - shhhh...don’t tell anyone about the magical Wallowa Mountains.
  2. Crater Lake Rim. We hiked it July 2017. I hadn’t been since I was a kid and it took my breath away. There was still so much snow that we couldn’t access parts of the trail. The kids were so enchanted with the views they didn’t complain once!
  3. I will always have a soft spot for Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. Most memorable was running the trail for the Forest Park 10K with some of my siblings.
  4. My favorite Columbia Gorge hike is Triple Falls, but maybe it was because we had such a beautiful day to hike it. Noe did it barefooted. Thank goodness we were in Oregon so it wasn't weird. I have lots of memories hiking in my younger days with my BFF Angie, but I'm excited to share the Gorge with my family in the coming years and as it slowly recovers from the recent devastating forest fire.
Other Favorites:

  1. Devil’s Garden at Arches National Park. Between the heat and hopping large boulders, I’m so thankful we’re all still alive.
  2. Observation Point at Zion National Park. Also heart-stoppingly wonderful.
  3. Damnation Creek Trail - Five miles roundtrip through magnificent CA Redwoods to the ocean. I think this was my all-time favorite hike with my people.
  4. Temescal Ridge Trail - near Pacific Palisades, along CA coast near Los Angeles. Breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. And snakes!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Snow City

Most people think pre-snow hysteria in Portland is ridiculous and I totally disagree. I think it is one of the best things about Portland.

All day today, everyone was buzzing. How much snow will we get? When will it come? How many days will the kids get off from school? How mad will we be if it just rains!?!  There was a current of excitement that went beyond usual Friday levels.

Biking home from work, I spotted people outside salting down their sidewalks while chatting with neighbors. Another man was awkwardly lying on the ground trying to put chains on his car. I stopped by the library to pick up some reading provisions to get us through the potential of consecutive homebound days. Packing up the books and getting back on my bike, an older woman, a complete stranger, approached me and gave me a hug for being out on a bike in this kind of weather, all to help our planet. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I love to bike so much, I might still do it if it increased greenhouse emissions. It's just a lucky twist of fate that biking helps me look like a heroine of the planet.

And I'm pretty sure people who live in the Midwest don't empty out their grocery stores at the threat of 2-4 inches.  It's all a part of the hysteria that makes Portland quirky. While pre-storm grocery shopping isn't exactly fun, it's definitely a memorable experience and a great reminder that our food isn't necessary limitless. I went into Trader Joes with a quick exit plan, but there was less food and longer lines than during my visit to Ruble Crisis Russia in 1999. 

I came out of Trader Joe's with frozen vegetables, soup, spaghetti noodles and sauce and frozen orange chicken. None of it on my original list, but it will get us through the weekend. I also came out of Trader Joe's to....RAIN. Not a single flake in the sky.