Tuesday, December 8, 2015


When he is a grown up, he will have a wife and two, maybe three kids ("I'll have to discuss that with my wife, " he says). He will live in the little orange and yellow house three blocks from our current home that he has eyed since we moved into the neighborhood ("so me and my two or three kids can see you every day!"). He will be an urban planner, the job he has wanted since he discovered there was an actual title to the thing that has drawn him in since age 2, when he started mapping out mini-cities and transportation systems with his Thomas the train sets.

When I was 11, I wanted to be an attorney and wear high-powered suits to work each day (it was the 1980's…picture giant shoulder pads). No kids and no husband ("that would ruin everything!") a big house and a really nice red sports car and a pool….all for myself.  Wow, my 11 year old self would be so disappointed with me!

Whatever Asher decides to do over the coming years, I know it will be done with the tenacity and compassion which has already become his trademark. And his father and I will continue to be so immensely proud of him.

Happy 11th Birthday, kiddo.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Family photo: Redwoods, Damnation Trail

I am finally getting around to our awesome #guzmancaliadventure trip last summer. This trip was years in the making, the trickiest part was finding the time to make it happen. I remember dreaming about driving down the length of the PCH back when we lived in NYC! I am including our itinerary and a few links for anyone interested.

PCH Trip Itinerary

Days 1 and 2: Drove from Seattle to Mill Creek California State Park (Redwoods).  Lunch stop at Track Town in Eugene, quick tour of UO campus and I drooled over the new business building that was still in the planning phases when I attended MBA school there fifteen years ago. We also did a quick drive-by of my old Eugene apartment.  We arrived late afternoon and set up camp.  We stayed at Mill Creek, but spent a lot of time at Jedediah State Park.  Both were amazing and I've read that the Redwood state parks are actually better than the national park Redwood areas.  I'd never camped at a site with a bear box which was both convenient for food storage and comforting.  Our campsite was right among the big Redwood beauties and private. The nights were cool and the days were gorgeous. Two highlights: Stout Grove and Damnation Trail,  a challenging but fun seven mile hike through Redwood groves that ended at a remote beach. This hike was probably the biggest highlight (among many big ones) of my trip. Sharing it with my family was special.

More Redwood trip ideas here.

Noé, Stout Grove
Day 3: We did a farewell morning hike in the state park and packed up.  Most of the rest of the day was spent driving down to the Bay Area.  It was hot and our air conditioner broke.   We decided against taking Hwy 101 for this stretch to save ourselves some time. Around 5PM we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into the City and the rest of the hot, crazy traffic, ac-less day was forgotten. Entering the City was definitely a high point of the trip for the kids. We arrived in Redwood City in time to have a Chinese take-out picnic in the backyard of our friends' house.    

Day 4:  We rode the CalTrain in for a day of exploring San Francisco.  Here is a fun SF tour if you have limited time and a car. We saw as much of the city as we could on foot in a day, focusing on places the kids would like, since Ed and I have visited the city many times. We walked the Embarcadero, stopped at the Ferry Building (ok, that was kind-of a "me" stop), had a pizza lunch and playground pit stop in the Little Italy of San Francisco, visited Chinatown, stopped in at the Fortune Cookie Factory to see how the cookies are made and to write our own fortunes for our cookies, rode a cable car, gazed at the Bay Bridge.  We needed another week in this beautiful city!  Everyone says with horror that Seattle is the new San Francisco.  I say bring it on!

Day 5:  This was such a relaxed day with gorgeous weather, great views, and good friends. We spent the morning in Palo Alto on the Stanford campus with college friends, letting Ed wax nostalgic. We hung out at the main quad, the top of Hoover Tower, picnicked on the Oval before heading to the ocean. We spent the afternoon boogie boarding at Ed's favorite college beach on the north end of Half-Moon Bay. Truly one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited. Later we drove down to Santa Cruz for the night.

Day 6:  Asher hasn't stopped talking about the Santa Cruz boardwalk. I had hoped it would be more charming and less carni crowd, but we did have fun on the rides and stuffing ourselves with kettle corn while looking out at the ocean view.  We spent the whole afternoon and early evening at the boardwalk.  Earlier in the day, we found a state park beach just outside of Santa Cruz.  The fog didn't lift until almost 1PM, but we still had a great time out on the water. Beautiful, clean beach on the edge of orange and lemon groves. More boogie boarding, more frisbee, more sand castles.

Day 7: We headed to Monterrey for a day at the Monterrey Aquarium. We LOVED the aquarium, even though we aren't really science geeks. I highly recommend going as early as you can, if you are traveling during the summer months. Serious crowds.

After another picnic lunch against the backdrop of beautiful Monterrey, we then drove the scenic roller coaster length of the PCH between Monterrey and Pismo Beach, including the famous 17 mile drive. We only stopped to see Elephant Seal Vista Point near San Simeon. I think I was the only one fascinated by the seals. My travel buddies couldn't get past the stench.  There were other spots I would have loved to stop if time had permitted, including Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. We made it to Pismo Beach just before nightfall and set up camp.

Day 8:  I didn't love Pismo Beach (maybe I should have actually done some hard research on the place rather than going with a name that sounded like it should be a cool California beach). It was dry, not very scenic and a little trashy. Probably the highlight of our Pismo Beach stop  was eating at In-and-Out.

We spent the morning at the beach (I did enjoy the boogie boarding - the ocean was warm and the waves were perfect), and then continued on the final stretch to LA.  We did stop in Santa Barbara for the afternoon and visited the beautiful, flamingo-pink old California mission there.

LA Visit:  We were really tired of driving by the time we reached LA, so we ditched our car and mostly got around LA by light rail (yes, LA has a light rail!) There is a stop just a couple of blocks from Ed's parents house, so it is really convenient for us. We spent a day exploring downtown LA spots such as Chinatown and Olvera Street. We also rode the light rail out to Pasadena, which is probably my most favorite place in Southern California.  Another day we grabbed sandwiches from Phillipes and ate lunch in the empty stands of Dodger Stadium, which was really awesome. Otherwise, we spent time with family and friends, ate a lot of great Mexican food, let the kids wander through their Abuelo's compound in bare feet. We did very little for 4th of July, besides eat off the grill and light sparklers. It isn't safe to be outside after dark on a holiday in their neighborhood. Too many people shooting guns in all directions.

How we travel: We have established firm financial goals so that we can care for our oldest and survive the roller coaster ride that is the newspaper industry. But we highly value travel and time with family and friends. We started camping to save money, but found we really enjoy it (even Ed!), at least in short stints. This trip, we camped out several nights, stayed with generous friends in the Bay Area and then with Ed's parents in LA.  We ended up only paying for two nights of hotel in Santa Cruz. And those nights felt luxurious…a pool, a hot tub, free ice, free breakfast, cable television! We also spent little time in restaurants, mostly buying groceries and picnicking down the coast. There were exceptions (In-and-Out, Track Town), but we saved a ton of money and overall felt healthier throughout the trip. We based most of our play on the beach and outdoors, which is (mostly) free.  That is the most fun for me anyways. And picnicking on a beautiful beach is so much better than eating greasy food in a chain restaurant. There were things that were just plain expensive: Monterrey Aquarium.  San Francisco. Santa Cruz Boardwalk. But they were all worth the cost, and there was less guilt forking over the money knowing we were saving in other areas.

We left Santa Cruz Boardwalk with our heads
 and wallets feeling a bit lighter.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Almost 40

20 things I would love to go back and tell my 20 year old self … on my 40th birthday.

1. Skipping meals makes you fat.

2. Perfect families are boring families.

3. You actually make yourself wealthier and more powerful when you can do basic skills such as cooking, car repair, sewing, and cleaning. Ignore the gender implications, saving money when you're young matters more.

4. You may think you have figured out where you stand with your faith, but the struggle never really ends.

5. $10,000 is not a lot of money.

6.  College grades matter much less than experience and connections.

7. Make sure your moisturizer has SPF….and wear it every day.

8.  Hold your best friends tight.  It gets harder and harder to make true friends as you age.

9.  Motivation happens through action, not before.

10.  You look ridiculous riding a razor scooter with your kids when you are (almost) 40.  But do it anyways because it is fun.

11. Less stuff, less stress.

12.  Never waste an otherwise perfect day at the beach worrying about your back-thigh cellulite.

13.  You can't convince love.  So stop wasting your time and find the one who loves you with all of his heart. And (hint) he might be wearing nerdy glasses and a Stanford sweatshirt.

14.  Eat all the ice cream you can.  Because you might turn 40 and not be able to eat it anymore.

15.  Run all the miles you can.  Because you might turn 40 and it might become very painful.

16.  Don't change your name when you marry.  It doesn't make you less devoted to your husband or your family.  Yes, it is purely symbolic.  But symbols are important.

17.  Don't listen to any person or any institution who tells you how to dress or otherwise appear.  It is not okay.

18. The power of compounded interest over time is a real thing. There is nothing you think you need in your twenties that will be worth the compounded savings you will achieve in your forties and beyond.

19. Skinny jeans….not your best look.

20. Be patient with your siblings, they will someday be your very best friends.  For reals.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Duck Island

I'll never forget the day our offer was accepted on our current Seattle home. I was still in Reston, VA with the boys: working, packing up, and selling our NoVA house.  Ed was in Seattle, working a new job by day and running the real estate rat maze by evening, searching for that elusive block of cheese with a six-figure price tag.

Our new house was in a neighborhood that I had visited once and had never stopped thinking about, near a beautiful lake, with the Seattle cityscape rising in its background. I could barely believe that our offer had been accepted in the crazy gold mine that is currently Seattle Real Estate.  The honeymoon is now mostly over as far as my neighborhood is concerned, but it was a day full of possibility and wonder.

When the boys came home from school, I told them the news about the house. I hadn't yet mentioned the possibility of this house to them.  We are careful with our money and I didn't think we really had much of a shot with this particular house in the land of escalating clauses and offer review dates.  By some random stroke of luck, our offer had been accepted.  The boys and I looked at pictures of our new home and maps of the surrounding area. We marveled how close the lake and their school would be to our house. Asher immediately zeroed in on a fine detail from a map of the lake….a small mysterious island. Duck Island.

Duck Island continued to mystify and thrill eight-year-old Asher. Over the past two years, we have Asher has speculated about what kinds of things inhabited the island for many hours at a time….Buried treasure? A native people? Was it like Australia…where they sent all the criminals? (this was probably the most realistic theory, as it faced the Aurora Ave side of the lake).  We have walked around the lake with the island in full view, boated around the island, peeping into it's thick moat of greenery and trees with binoculars, all many many times.  Why I never thought to just dock our boat and go take a look on one of those occasions is it's own mystery.  It just seemed so….Forbidden.

Asher touching landfall
Last July, with Noé at summer school and two hours to kill before he returned, Asher and I kayaked on the lake.  And we did our usual loop around Duck Island.  Asher, once again, asked if we could stop.

Why not?

There wasn't an inviting place to dock our two-seat kayak, so I stayed anchored to the boat while Asher hopped onto land (kind-of reminiscent of Captain Cook setting foot on Hawaii for the first time…or maybe the opposite).  He was eager to claim this unchartered territory, exactly seventy blocks from downtown Seattle, as his own.  I said a quiet prayer that no island natives would tie him up and run him over a fire like a human shish kabob.

It didn't take long for Asher to run back to the boat after circling the island (it's not really a very big island).

He was out of breath, a glint of excitement in his eyes. "Mom, guess what?  I think NATIVE AMERICANS live on the island.  There's a teepee and everything!  I took pictures!" He had taken my iPhone on his island tour and began to click through photos.

the sacred site

He had either uncovered North American Indian artifacts worthy of a natural history museum or a hobo hangout.  All bets on the latter.

We rowed back to shore with smiles on our faces, heroic conquerors of tiny urban islands.

Friday, August 21, 2015

One-minute progress report

A super quick list of Noé's progress this summer…..

1.  Spelling simple CVC words on his iPad communication device (hat, cat, car…)
2.  8 mile + elevation hikes (he could probably go much further if he wasn't limited by…us)
3.  Dresses himself independently (still needs to figure out which way to wear his shirt!)
4.  True interaction with his brother and other family members!
5.  Smiles for the camera on cue
6.  Follows directions more precisely and consistently….his receptive language has made a huge leap this summer!
7.  Loves to help me bake in the kitchen….follows instructions well and doesn't make a huge mess with ingredients.

I am SO pleased and sure love this kid!!!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Common Ground

It's now been more than 10 years since we received Noe's autism diagnosis. In the time since, through four moves and three different jobs, I've wrestled with how best to connect with him. He is my first-born son, and I love him deeply, but there was something that was lost when that diagnosis hit our family like a tsunami wave.

My wife Jen articulated this feeling of loss very eloquently in a post on this blog last year. There have been good days, hopeful days and downright awful days. The feelings of stress and guilt, wondering if there is more you can do, wax and wane depending on the week. Through it all, though, our family's still intact, with Jen and I coming up on 14 years of marriage later this month.

But sometimes I still wonder: am I getting through to Noe? Does he really know I love him?

Don't get me wrong: we've had our moments. They've usually revolved around music (I took him to a Bob Dylan concert when he was 6) or outdoor activities (Surfer's Healing will always be a highlight). And those hopeful days give you the fuel necessary when the less hopeful days inevitably take place.

This summer, we've been fortunate to have extended periods of quality time, and I've seen those familiar themes re-emerging. I got a record player for Christmas last year, and it's been fun adding to and playing our vinyl collection. Noe has his favorites (Amy Winehouse has been on heavy rotation) but he's also picked up on my infatuation with Miles Davis' music. Jen told me the story that after I left to go to work after we had been on vacation for two weeks, he pulled "Kind of Blue" from the shelf and handed it to Jen so she could put it on the record player.

"I think he misses you," Jen texted.

Speaking of Winehouse, I also recently took him to see "Amy," the documentary about her life. Those who know us well know that the movie theater has been a non-starter for Noe. While his younger brother has been to every Pixar movie under the sun, big brother tends to find the movies a giant bore (and for us, an expensive waste of time).

But in my ever-continuing quest to connect, I gambled on a Sunday matinee. Much to my pleasant surprise, he sat patiently and loved it. As the picture below shows, he seemed smitten.

As for outdoor activities, hiking has become the activity of choice for Noe this summer. A four-plus mile hike on something called Damnation Creek Trail? Bring it, dad. About an eight-mile round trip with an elevation change of 2,200 feet on the Beckler Peak Trail? My pulse barely changes, old man.

Noe was our happy hiker, and I was happy to have found more common ground with him. Sure, it was more than 5,000 feet above sea level, but beggars can't be choosers. And to see those smiles on those brothers pictured at the top of this post, it was more than worth it.

A writer of some renown whose work I admire once told me about fatherhood, "There is pain -- there always will be -- but there is hope." And I suppose that's been the lesson for me from this summer. With Noe, challenges remain, the future remains at least partly unknown and in December he'll officially become a teenager. But I remain hopeful (and grateful) for those moments when it looks like we've made a connection, when that common ground feels just a little firmer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to put some Miles on the turntable...

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Brother, the Cop

It is hard to deny that there is a lot that is wrong with policing in America today.  Our system of justice does not serve racial minorities and other outliers of society.  A lot needs to be fixed and righted…and I don't pretend to know where we should even start.  But we certainly need to try.  We owe it to those individuals who have been treated poorly, falsely imprisoned, or even killed at the hands of officers who have misused their power, to start this process of change.

But there is another story of policing in America.  It is one that is much quieter, and not likely to make the front pages.  It is a story of men and women, committed to their careers, to their families, to their country.  They face each work day, having no inclination what it will bring, with courage and dependability and grace. They work in the peripheries and darkest corners to keep us safe.  And they mostly succeed.  

One of these police officers is my brother who works for the Portland Police Department, East Precinct.  I am extremely proud of him and the man he has become.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Take 2, Seattle Times: Long Form Interview with Ami Brown

Ami (Niiya) Brown, 1991-92 season (I think!)

My friend Ami doesn't just break glass ceilings, she bashes them in with her fire ax.  I have admired her career journey as a long-time friend and came away with even more respect for her after I interviewed her for this piece published in the Seattle Times on July 8th.  I wanted to record and save the entirety of our conversation for posterity, because she is truly a pioneer in her field.  There is so much good stuff in here!

In Ami's own words...

When did you decide you wanted to become a firefighter?
I remember somewhere between sophomore and junior year deciding I wanted to be a firefighter.  I can't pinpoint an exact reason why, but knew it was what I wanted to do.  I knew for sure by junior year that was my goal.  And I know this because I knew my SAT scores wouldn't really matter for what I wanted to do--go to PCC and get my Fire Science Degree.  I remember not finishing a book report for AP English senior year and not really caring cause I knew it didn't matter. I worked at Pizza Hut with a friend my sophomore summer before we were juniors.  She told me her brother had started at PCC in the Fire Science Program and that he too wanted to be a firefighter.  At some point I spoke to him about it.  Erick was so enthusiastic and excited about the program it made it even more exciting for me.  And (my friend) Carla’s brother Darrell was also a firefighter for Portland.  I remember interviewing him our junior year for a personal finance class.   I  enjoyed watching reruns of Emergency.  I think many of us who are firefighters today enjoyed watching Johnny and Roy save the world back then! That show is known for paving the way for Paramedic programs across the nation.  It was a show that was way ahead of it's time for back in the 70s.  I think it probably contributed to my desire to be a firefighter.  

What was the process to get hired? Take me through the timeline. 
I enrolled at PCC (Portland Community College) and joined the Fire Science Program.  You had to apply and pass a physical agility test of sorts and run a certain amount of miles in a certain time.  You just didn't "get in".  After starting classes everyone in the program said in order to get a job you should be a paramedic. I had never considered this, but if that's what everyone else was doing...then that's what I would do too.  I think it was my 2nd term at PCC I enrolled in the EMT Basic program.  That was my only class I took besides my Firefighter skills class every Saturday for 8 hours.  Skills class were every term on the weekend.   

After getting my EMT Basic certificate (which you need to get your paramedic) I was offered a job at AMR. I received a letter in the mail (it was sent to every Basic in the state) saying they were hiring.  Why not?  I was 18 and got hired at AMR as a Basic.  It was the first step to me getting my foot in the door to the world of Fire and EMS.  Through AMR I met Krista, who was a volunteer firefighter with Clackamas.  We formed a friendship, which led to me becoming a volunteer with her which led me to me moving to Beavercreek to volunteer and live with her and Chuck, who was also a volunteer at Clackamas.  This was in ‘97.  I was hired at AMR in ‘95.  I finished PCC in ‘95 I believe.  And I started Paramedic school in ‘96.  Got my medic in the fall of 1997 and this got me on a 911 ambulance in Multnomah County where I gained tons of experience. I worked at AMR until getting hired by Gresham Fire in January of 2000.  I then got hired by Clackamas in March of 2000.  I was the 3rd woman to be hired.  Currently we have 6 women.  We have approximately 180 line personnel.  6 out of 180 is what .03%.  We are way below the national average of women.  I think the average is 3.7%.  I know part of this is due to the fact we typically test and hire paramedics.  This limits our testing to a lot less people-- both men and women.  But I think it is a good standard since our EMS calls are the majority of our responses.  I was the first female Apparatus Operator (I am now 1 of 2, but the other gal is retiring at the end of this year).  And we currently have no female officers.  One other gal tested this last round and she is #3 on the list.  She will get promoted and be the first female lieutenant at Clackamas which is very exciting.  We could actually have a crew of all females at some point!! I would love to have that happen before I retire.  It would be amazing.    

Who were your biggest supporters and detractors?
Obviously my Mom and Dad were my biggest supporters.  Not one time did they tell me no, or that it might be hard or anything!  I should ask my Mom.  They probably didn't know any more than I did that women "weren't supposed" to be firefighters!  They probably just thought, “Okay!  Have fun!”  Also my friends, especially Angie because I was living with her at the time.  I know my friends were so excited for me and always there.  They were the ones who came to my swearing in ceremony!  I would say there have only been a handful of detractors. Unfortunately they are ones that leave an impression on you.  They were all instructors or paid firefighters somewhere when I was a student.  But there were 10X the amount of instructors and paid firefighters that were SO supportive telling me to not give up and basically not listen to the haters!    

Were you ever discouraged?  Did you ever think about quitting?
I think the only time I was ever really discouraged was when I was living with Angie.  I was at PCC still and part of your degree was to spend time at a station on shift for a term.  I was stationed with a Portland area fire crew.  They had an engine and a truck there and were very busy.  Of course I was so excited.  Looking back now I am sure those guys hated it.  Having an outsider come ride with you is stressful and can be uncomfortable.  You must watch everything you say and act appropriately all day!  And the fact to have a girl come ride had to make it even worse.  These are things I was naive to.  I really didn't understand the views of the guys and not only that but "intruding" on their shift every day for those few weeks.  Everyone is always worried about the big H word. Harassment.  It is such a big deal and once it's out there, it's out there.  People have got demoted for "harassing" people so it can be a sticky situation. 

So there were I think 8-9 guys there.  Three of them were very nice and super welcoming.  One was outright not.  I don't know how many shifts I had been there, but I would switch rigs and go on whoever was going on the call.  We got called to a fire and I was so excited.  I can't remember much, but I know I was sitting in the back of the truck with the guy who didn't like me.  We went and got back and it was nothing.  When we got back to the station he yelled at me and told me that I was in his way and when they were going to a fire I needed to stay out of his way.  Like YELLED at me in the bay in front of everyone.  Two of the other guys came up to me later and told me not to mind him, that he was having a bad day or whatever.  So basically that solidified my thought that he was a jerk and out of line.  But what could I do?  I was upset and heartbroken and embarrassed.  I remember going home that day and not wanting to ever go back.  Angie came home after I was and I was in kitchen and she knew something was wrong. I remember standing in the kitchen bawling and hugging her!  This was my first real world experience with someone who I felt was sexist.   And I still remember the three guys that were supportive there.  I have seen two of them since then and they remembered me and were excited I got hired.  Those are the people I remember and when we get a young rider who is new and excited..I remember all of that.  I want to be remembered as a positive influence and someone who got them excited about it.  
I thought they were going to use this photo for the original story,
but they didn't. We're so dang cute…I had to include it! Go Scots!

Did playing high school sports effect your future life and career?  If so, how? If you had it to do all over again would you play sports in high school?

Yes, playing high school sports had a huge impact on my life including my career!  And I would absolutely do it again!  I think, like you, sports in high school were a highlight and I can’t imagine going through high school without them.  One of the things looking back now that I think it taught me was how to get along with others.  You play with people not in your clique.  People you wouldn’t otherwise hang out with -- people in other grades than you, too.  It makes you get to know others and learn differences and be tolerant.  You work with them as a team, you practice, play, travel, win and lose.  

When we recruit women for the department we specifically think of girls who are involved in sports.  Those girls have he traits that make a good firefighter.  Girls who play sports have a drive others don’t.  Part of that is just being in good physical shape.  Athletes typically work hard and train hard to be at their peak.  As a firefighter you have to be ready to work at any time.  Staying in good physical shape is part of this career and I think more difficult for women.  Men naturally have stronger upper bodies.  We have to work at it.  Some guys don’t - they are just built like trucks!  And they can muscle their way through stuff.  We have to be strong and use good techniques.  

We are a team and work hard together to get a job done.  It doesn’t always go as planned, but we work it out together and try to figure out how to improve next time.  Our practices are our drills.  Game time is when the tones go off.  

High school sports taught me it's not all about you.  You may ride the bench if your team wins, but you are still needed and still a part of it.  We have fires where our crew may be on the scene but not get an assignment, but we are ready if needed - kind of like riding the bench!  

What makes you a good firefighter?
I think what makes me a good firefighter is my attitude.  Your attitude can make or break you, no matter how smart or strong you are.  The guys here who I consider “not good” firefighters are the ones with poor attitudes.  They are negative and don’t care about running calls or doing a good job.  The firefighters  who are “good” are positive.  They have pride in themselves, the station, the department.  They are here to run calls. They want to train and get better.  Failure isn’t an option, but when it happens, they fix it.

Another trait is being trustworthy.  You have to trust the guys you are working with to have your back.  What the other firefighters care about -- can she get me out if I go down? We live together as a family.  You have to be able to trust each other with everything!  I know more about some of the guys I work with than some of my close family and friends!

I recently had a captain tell me a story about when I got hired.  We did a drill where we had to carry a firefighter down a ladder from the second story out of a window.  So we would climb up the ladder and guys inside would help put a simulated down firefighter across your arms and you had to get him down.  He was in full turnouts with an air pack.  So I climbed up and stood on a ladder and locked arms on the beams.  And they placed the guy across my arms so he was laying in them and then I had to climb down the ladder.  They put a guy named “Fred” on me.  Fred is probably 6’3” and 200+ lbs with 60 lbs of gear on him.  I  brought him down no problem.  But I guess that day in his mind and others who were there it was like  --- ok, she’s good.  She’s got this.  

After he told me this I remembered years ago another veteran guy had mentioned that same drill.  And the fact he was impressed that I did it.  They had their doubts.  And I don’t blame them!  I know what I’m capable of, but they didn’t.  So that is what they needed to see.  That I could handle them if I had to.  And over the years as people get to know you and see you on calls and at drills, they know.  She’s good.  She’s got this.  But as a woman you have to prove it.

It’s different for men.  We all assume a man should be able to pull another man out of a building or carry a ladder.  And it doesn’t help that I’m small.  I’m strong but I’m not exactly a big burly Mazama Mama.  I very often get from the public (usually older people), “How are you going to pick me up?”  Or “I hope they send someone bigger than you.”  “Do you do all the cooking?”  If I answer the phone at the station I get, “Can I talk to one of the firemen?”  You have to be able to laugh at all that stuff.

What do you bring to your job as a woman?
This is tricky!  As women, we don’t want to be singled out.  We want to be recognized for being a firefighter.  That is probably the worst thing for us is to be singled out in a way that seems like we are doing a different job because we are female.  

One thing that is helpful but not necessary is on medical calls when there can be a sensitive female issue including pregnancy or abuse.  That same older generation that believes the women are cooking and cleaning and answering phones at the station also seem to sometimes respond better to me than my coworkers.  

We started doing 12-lead EKGs a couple of years ago and for women it requires them to take off their bras.  At first I was mad all the guys wanted me to do it, but then I realized, they are right.  Why wouldn’t I offer to do it?  Why make an 80 year old lady take off her bra and open her shirt to some young guy when I’m standing right there.  I honestly don’t mind anymore and jump at the chance because I think most (of the patients) appreciate it and I KNOW all of the guys absolutely appreciate it.  

I am a Peer Supporter for the department.  There are several of us who went through the training to help our own through tough times.  Because of this and I think the fact that I’m a woman and have a more sensitive side (at least more than the guys I work with), I am the one who talks to family when someone has died.  I think I have empathy and even moreso since my dad died to know what they are going through.  If we are there, it was probably unexpected.  Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely guys here who are great if not better at being the consoler, but on my crew it usually falls to me.  And I like that.  It’s like I’m taking care of my guys and taking care of the family.  

Another thing I think I bring to the department is just the awareness factor of women in the fire service.  As I said earlier I get comments all of the time about it.  And I take that as a positive thing because it's bringing an awareness to people that it isn't just men doing it anymore.  I have been to several schools where the teacher says, "Did you know women could be firefighters?"  And recently I have been hearing more yeses than I used to!  it used to be all nos!  I have even had little girls tell me they want to be a firefighter when they grow up and I think that is the coolest thing.  I hope they remember me and can someday tell a story about how a woman firefighter came to their school when they were little and it made an impression!   As much as we don't want to be singled out as women firefighters, we are all proud.  I am proud to be a firefighter and it just so happens I am a woman. :)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Father's Day

It's been fifteen years since my dad passed away. It is a true statement that time heals and mostly I've accepted that life will have to continue without him.  But there are still moments when I ache for him. More often these are happy moments when we are gathered as a family. Moments when the kids (his grandkids) are playing together at his house and the adults are chatting and laughing.  Sometimes I stop in those moments and just listen, taking in all the sights and sounds around me for him.  And I am so happy, but so sad.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Generation Gap

We celebrated Easy Ed's 38th birthday last week!  It was a busy weekday, but we were able to have a nice family dinner of Chez Jose Chicken Lime burritos and all the fixings, with from-scratch chocolate cake and then presents.  And then we took a walk down to the lake to enjoy the beautiful evening.

Here is a snippet of the conversation on our walk down to the lake:

Asher:  So, um, Dad?  Do you get any "updates" when you turn 38?

Ed:  What do you mean "updates?"

Asher: You know, like when you turn 16 you get your drivers license and when you turn 12 you can wear contact lenses.

(Ed and I exchange bewildered looks)

Ed: Asher, people aren't apps.  You do understand that, right?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Remembering the Eruption of Mt St Helens

When we lived on the East Coast, my best "cocktail story" was always my personal account of watching Mt St Helens blow its top as a young child.  East Coasters, most of whom have never had active volcanos in their backyard, were fascinated by the details and aftermath of the eruption.

My mom, my dad, my younger siblings and I watched the mountain erupt from the field at Cherry Park Elementary, just a block from our home.  I was four years old at the time.  And while I had no idea how very rare it was to personally witness the self-destruction of a mountain, I could feel the significance and intensity of the day in my little bones.

We swam in gray, dirty ash for days….weeks maybe.   We had to wear surgeon's masks when we went outside.  It was dark, gloomy, end-of-world-like outside. There were huge piles of ash in our backyard for years following the eruption.   I buried my first pet, Beaver the Hamster, in a tomb of aluminum foil and volcanic ash.  My dad raked the ash into our backyard garden and the vegetables seemed to super-size themselves.  My mom scolded us for tracking it into the house.

It was a defining event in an otherwise typical childhood.

Throughout the reminder of my childhood, St Helens loomed in our periphery to the north.  The mountain, once a perfectly swirled soft-serve top, was now flat.  As if Mother Nature herself had taken a hearty lick off of that ice cream cone.  I worried constantly about the mountain that stood proud and majestic and so so very large just east of us.  It took less than an hour to reach the timberline of Mt Hood from our house.  What would happen if Hood blew?  Would our backyard be full of hot lava instead of ash?

The summer after my freshman year in college, I climbed Mt St Helens with my dad, my best friend Angie, and a few of my dad's coworkers.  It was a full day's climb.  When we reached the top, we sat and ate a sack lunch at the rim of the crater and then peered into the deep abyss of steam and doom a few times before heading back down the mountain.  Terrifying.  And wonderful.

This past Spring Break, I headed back to explore the mountain with my kids.  I had not been in the area since that climb.  Thirty-five years of post-eruption regrowth and renewal had made the mountainside glorious to behold.  We explored Ape Caves.  We hiked Lava Canyon with good friends while a feather-light snow fell.  At night, in our cozy little yurt at Seaquest State Park, I tried to explain the impact of the eruption on my young life to my kids.  And I suddenly had a vision of myself at a very advanced age.  My great grandchildren coming to my nursing home to interview me for their school reports, unable to comprehend that their great grandmother could have possibly witnessed an event from so long ago, the eruption of Mt St Helens in May of 1980.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Saying No To The Abuelos

(Originally published January 4, 2006 on Tales from the Crib blog)

Our family is finishing up our “West Coast Holiday Tour.” With my husband Ed’s family living in LA and mine in Portland, we try to divide our vacation time as evenly as possible.

On Christmas Day, we traded balmy LA for a little Portland rain, but not before a silent showdown with Ed’s parents, aka The Abuelos.

The Abuelos immigrated from Mexico to East LA in the early 1970’s. Ed’s father works as a garbage man in the vast suburbs of LA and Ed’s mom spends most of her day cooking as well as nagging Ed on the telephone. They have achieved the American Dream, which in their minds includes owning a modest home and oversized American automobiles, and keeping their grandsons outfitted in overpriced designer clothing, typically at least two sizes too large for their little bodies.

My relationship with the Abuelos has been difficult at times. Cultural differences abound with my husband always caught in the middle. To keep peace, I have tried extra hard lately to please them. 

Christmas Eve had been a day of complete overindulgence and excess. It began soon after the roosters in East LA started cock-a-doodling, when a truck pulled into the Abuelos driveway and a group of men proceeded to blow up a giant balloon castle. Our boys just turned 3 and 1 years old. They seemed pretty young to have their own castle, but I tried to be excited. These kids also received constant presents throughout that day as well. I was gracious, and saved my worries about how much money the Abuelos had spent on my kids, what spoiled brats they might become, and how we were going to haul the gifts back to New York, for later. 

And the boys really did have a wonderful day. They jumped on that stupid castle for most of the day, stopping only for food and juice breaks.

Christmas morning, everyone seemed a little hung over from the previous day’s holiday food and castle hopping. The Abuelos insisted, however, that I put the boys in their new Ralph Lauren suits for the plane trip. They also acted offended when we suggested that we ship the Christmas toys out to New York at a later date. They insisted we take food with us for our trip. Because, after all, how will we survive a three hour plane ride without tamales and chorizo (smelly Mexican sausage)? After some discussion, Ed and I decided to honor our Christmas peace agreement. We silently packed up the food and toys in shopping bags and were off to the airport with our seriously overdressed toddlers.

I knew it would all end badly.

On our crowded Southwest flight, we quickly regretted our silence. Ed and I were exhausted and grouchy from trying to carry two toddlers and multiple bags of toys and food through security and onto the plane. One-year old Asher threw up twice on his new RL suit before we had even reached Oakland. We couldn’t contain the smell of our Mexican food storage and any plane turbulence would send off a hundred cheap plastic toys singing ‘Old McDonald’ and every other annoying nursery rhyme known to man. Passengers began to comment on the smell drifting down from the overhead compartment. Poor 3-year old Noe was walking off the plane behind me, when I looked back to discover that his too-large RL suit pants were around his ankles. The poor child had a full audience of Southwest passengers laughing as he tried frantically to keep up with his exhausted grumpy parents sans drawers. 

I am already preparing my “No Suits, No Toys, No Food” speech (in espanol) for next year’s visit. And if I lose my nerve, next time I’ll at least have the good sense to chuck the food and toys into the nearest airport garbage can and bring a change of clothes for my kids!

Friday, April 17, 2015

May 16, 2000

(Originally published May 17, 2008 on Tales from the Crib blog).

That was the day I lost my dad and found my life. 

I had a great dad. He was the dad who nailed a wooden basketball hoop to our backyard shed for my eighth birthday and didn't worry that I was the only girl on our block whose birthday wish list did not include Strawberry Shortcake or a My Little Pony. Dad would sneak me out of the house to run errands or go to ball games with him before my other brothers and sisters could be jealous, because he knew I needed a break from being the oldest. One year, he stayed up past midnight helping me finish the Christmas presents I was making for my friends.

He did the funniest impression of my junior year English teacher, Ms. Kullbom, where he slid his glasses down his nose, squinted his eyes really tight and scowled like an old bird. One year, for Halloween, he dressed up as a nerd and went into his office wearing broken glasses, a pocket protector and taped toilet paper to the bottom of his shoes. He was the owner and president of the company.

Aloe-scented after shave, warm wool sweaters, Simon and Garfunkel, eggnog french toast, NBA games on lazy Sunday afternoons, magical summers on the beaches of Maui....these things will forever represent the life I had with my dad.

A tragic fall from a roof, sleepless nights and jigsaw puzzles in the ICU waiting room, my brother's tearful goodbye...his fingers caressing my father's cheek, my mother's house bathed in flowers and casseroles, and a very large and public funeral with no time or space for mourning....these things will always represent his death.

My sophomore year at BYU, Dad surprised me with a trip to Washington, D.C. for my birthday. He had a conference to attend, but we managed to do a fair amount of sightseeing together. While we were walking near the US Capitol, we watched a fleet of limousines pull up to the Capitol building. I remember him saying we should wait and see if anyone important comes out....and I replied, "I am already looking at someone important." Such a cheesy line, for sure, but I really meant it. 

Dad had always loomed large in my eyes. And understandably so, he had accomplished a great deal in his career, in his public life, in his home. I spent a lot of time during high school and college trying to live up to what I perceived to be his impossibly high standards. No GPA was high enough, no career choice perfect enough, no boyfriend good enough to bring home to him. These weren't things he ever said to me, but expectations I placed on myself. The year before his death I felt particularly lost. I was finished with my undergraduate degree but felt adrift. I felt beaten down by my college boyfriends and wondered if I would ever find true love (ridiculous to think about now considering I was 23 at the time).

And then one day I went to work and got the call that changed everything forever, my dad was in a coma and he wasn't coming back.

The days following his death are still a haze of grief and shock and anger and exhaustion. Walking down the street left me winded, catching a ball felt shaky...even though a week before I had been in nearly the best shape of my life. I never realized how physical grief could feel. Have someone kick you square in the stomach and live that feeling for an entire year...that was my grief.

And then eventually, between the waves of grief, a new, unexpected emotion emerged....Relief.  Not relief in the variety of "thank goodness he is dead." Even eight years later, I crave him. I want so badly to share the life I have built with him. I want him to play with his grandsons and to sleep in our guest bed and talk sports with Ed. Instead, the relief I felt was a kind of freedom. Freedom of expectations removed. Freedom to start living the life I wanted for myself.

And that I did. Over the next two and a half years, I got married, graduated from MBA school, moved across the country and had a baby. Talk about putting your life on fast forward.  Initially, a lot of guilt accompanied these feelings of freedom. Since then, I have read that this is actually a pretty common reaction to losing a parent. I've read stories about adult children making huge life changes soon after a parent dies, everything from quitting a smoking habit, to changing careers, to moving abroad, all resulting from the relief of expectations removed.

I fully anticipate I will feel free of another set of expectations when my mother passes away. And I will also miss her terribly.

And I hope that when I am dead, my own children derive some peace and happiness from their own newly found freedom.

But not too much.

Neighborhood Swimming Pool

(Originally published on Tales of the Crib blog, August 8, 2008)

Our summer routine has gone something like this: I get home from work, we eat a quick dinner, and we spend the rest of the evening at the pool. Ed joins us at some point in the evening, depending on his work schedule.

Yesterday, our neighborhood pool was closed, so we tried another one. This was our first time at the pool, and apparently it is not very popular because it was completely empty, save two teenaged lifeguards. They were less than pleased to see us as our presence meant they had to turn off their ipods and cell phones and actually do their jobs.

And let’s just say that my boys weren’t winning any awards for good behavior. I spent most of our pool time putting one of them in “time out” for running, or getting another out of the filtration ducts that keep them strangely fascinated. When I had finally settled down with my book, five-year-old Noe plopped down on top of me with his wet little body, completely drenching my clothes and my book. Meanwhile, three-year old Asher had to go potty, and insisted on using the urinal in the men’s bathroom. I obviously couldn’t go in there, so I shouted directions to him from outside the bathroom. He couldn’t reach it, gave up and came running out of the bathroom with his swim trunks around his ankles. I scooped him up like a wet, noisy fish and forced him to sit on a toilet in the women’s bathroom before he had an accident.

I’d like to say that this was unusual behavior for them, but unfortunately it’s pretty typical for those last hours just before bedtime.

The two lifeguards looked on with horrified amusement. They whispered back and forth. I could almost hear what they were saying, “What little brats. Why can’t she control her own kids?” I could almost hear them, because those had been my own words when I was their age. 

We stayed until the pool closed, and all walked out together: teenaged lifeguards and mother with the bratty little kids. The teenagers got into their sporty SUVs and cranked up the radio. I loaded the boys into their car seats, and cranked up NPR. As the teenaged lifeguards looked at me in my nine-year-old sedan one last time, I knew their thoughts, “I never want her life.”

And as I watched the teenaged lifeguards speed out of the swimming pool parking lot, their lives so full of angst and unnecessary complication, I whispered with amusement, "I'll gladly keep my own life, thank you."

Rite Aid Haiku

(Originally posted on Tales from the Crib blog, March 12, 2008)

in the checkout line
gripping my Vics and Nyquil
hazy with the flu

two girls curse and slur
punching and slapping ensue
oops....one is pregnant

white suburbanites
observe with looks of horror
I only want sleep

now walking outside
expecting the stale Queens air
wait....I'm in Reston

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Happiness is Working with Brad Pitt

(Originally posted on Tales From the Crib blog on October 30, 2007)

My 2-year old Asher's favorite question these days is, "Baba (aka me), you happy?" Ok, maybe this is more like his third favorite question after, "I silly, Baba?"and "Are we going to play CARS or WHAT?" 

The first time Asher asked me if I was happy it really caught me off guard. Such a simple question and such a complicated answer. Asher, if you only knew....

Well, as for the big, important stuff....I couldn't be happier. I love my husband, I love my kids. I couldn't have chosen a better husband for me and father for them. I have great relationships with my mom and all of my siblings. I talk to each of them at least once a week. With a lot of work, I've even developed a good relationship with the in-laws. I am pretty happy with the person I have become, the beliefs I hold dear and most of the decisions I have made along the way.

Most days, I do enjoy staying at home with my kids. I like having control over their earliest influences and just simply having some fun with them everyday. Although I have yet to find the perfect outside work versus home balance, I feel fortunate to be able to control how much time away from home I am willing to work during their earliest years.

However, I have little voices in my head going on all day....voices that eat away little by little at this Happiness. Voices that ask me, "Am I doing this whole stay-at-home mom thing well enough? Is having me at home REALLY going to make a difference in the lives of my children...or am I just driving myself insane for no reason?" Or "Why exactly did I spend all of those years pursuing higher education in order to spend half my day scrapping kiddy crud off the kitchen floor?" Or, "Is this (insert playgroup/storytime/playdough/singing "Popcorn Popping" 1,000 consecutive times) supposed to be fun...or am I seriously missing something?" Occasionally, I find myself asking, "Is my life exciting enough?"

One day when the voices were winning, Ed called home to tell me what time he would be home and, oh, by the way, Brad Pitt was hanging out at his office and he had just returned from a meeting that he attended. WHAT??? I'm not usually star struck but BRAD PITT!?! What was he doing there? Is he even better looking in person? Was Angelina there too? All of these questions while I was on my hands and knees scrubbing pee from the carpet after another not-so-successful potty training session with Asher. It felt like a low point. Maybe if I hadn't quit my career I would be having lunch with Lisa Lang or Meg Whitman instead of this.

Hardly. That was my conclusion after shutting the door to my room and taking a few deep breaths. If I hadn't quit my career I would probably be working through my lunches, or dining alone at some cheap deli, in order to get home as fast as I could to my kids in order to squeeze a few minutes of quality time before we all self-destructed and drug ourselves to bed. I've seen it over and over, and while some moms can make it work, I know myself well enough to admit my life would be a juggling act where I would be dropping balls right and left.
I also reminded myself that Ed's job isn't really all that glamorous unless you dig selfish, overpaid professional athletes or you are fascinated by Watergate. People like Brad Pitt don't walk into his office everyday. In fact, he was there doing research for an upcoming role and my husband's contact with him was very brief. A much different reality than the image I had in my head a few minutes earlier…..Easy Ed shooting the breeze over vodka tonics and cigars Oceans 11 style while a few miles away in a Northern Virginia townhouse I chased around half-naked, snot-nosed boys in my own suburban housewife hell.  
Luckily, most days these voices do not win. And, at least according to my apparently very secure husband, Brad Pitt is even hotter in real life.

Spelling Bee

(Originally posted on Tales From the Crib blog, April 21, 2007.  Asher was 3 yo).

My Asher is quite the little speller and counter (thanks mostly to HIS heroes and MY weekday 9-10am PBS babysitters Cookie Monster and Count Von Count). He will count his peas before he eats them, count how many steps it takes up to the slide at the playground and he will even count the buttons on the shirt of the lady behind us in the grocery line. He loved learning his ABC's and now spells out the words he encounters in his everyday two-year-old living. He won't be reading Moby Dick any time soon or anything crazy like that, but there is such a pure joy for me in watching him develop a love of learning.

As for street smarts, Asher isn't quite there yet. For example, his loud, very deliberate spelling often gets him into trouble. Even if he doesn't tell me directly, I always know exactly what he is doing, even from a room or two away:

Asher: "T-M-O-B-I..."
Me: "Asher, please don't play with my cell phone!"

Asher: "O-R-E-O"
Me: "Sorry Bugs, no cookies until after lunch."

Asher: "K-Y-J-E-L-L.."
Me: "Asher, get out of that drawer right now!"

His usual response, "Otay, Mommy..." and we find something else to do together.

If only he would continue to spell out his activities to me loud and clear right through his teenage years....and if only playing trains or reading a book together would continue to work as a quick diversion....

I have a sneaking suspicion that things aren't going to stay this easy forever

No Deodorant Miracles, Just a Lot of Sweat and Tears

(Originally published Saturday, May 19, 2007 on Tales from the Crib blog.  Noe was 5 years old).

A couple weeks ago I dreamed that my four-year-old autistic son, Noe, was strapped down to a hospital bed while being examined by Dr. House. If you haven't seen the television show, House is an eccentric curmudgeonly genius who solves impossible medical cases in an hour. While House was examining Noe, something caught his attention and he started sniffing around the room until his nose landed under my armpit.

"What kind of deodorant do you use?" he asked.

"Secret, I think," I replied with a puzzled look.

"Switch to Dove and your son will be fine," he instructed in his irritated, know-it-all voice. And then he turned to leave, off to solve his next case.

Of course...my deodorant was causing Noe's autism! Why hadn't I thought of that in the first place? It all made perfect sense....until I woke up.

It has been two years since Noe's diagnosis. Two years full of anxiety and research and therapies and more anxiety and lots of medical bills followed by even more anxiety. We have attacked his autism using a variety of approaches. We are treating him biomedically, taking advantage of supplements and keeping his diet free from gluten and casein, which often exacerbate autism symptoms. We have a private ABA program, which relies heavily on behaviorist theory to teach him new skills. He has speech therapy to increase his language. He attends a special ed preschool program, which is preparing him to be integrated into a regular elementary school.

Every time we start a new therapy, I try to be realistic. I tell myself he will make progress, but it will take time and patience and hard work. But a small part of me still holds hope for a "deodorant cure"....that a particular therapy will click with Noe and rid him of his autism forever.

It is possible. More and more kids are recovering from their autism.  Some kids respond amazingly well to certain biomedical treatments, and other kids, if they start young enough, can essentially be cured of their autism through hours and hours of behavioral therapy. Noe has hit a lot of developmental milestones in the last couple of years, thanks largely to his therapies, but he is far from cured.

Most days, I am ok with it all. I know that even if we never find that quick cure, Noe will still find his niche in life and be happy and productive. Most days I feel lucky to have Noe in our family. He is a sweet, affectionate, beautiful child who does a lot of normal 4-year old stuff: He rides his bike like a maniac, loves to swim and hang from the monkey bars, he whines about eating his fruits and vegetables and fights with his younger brother. Most days I say to myself that if this is our family's cross to bear, I consider myself blessed.

And then there are the other days. Days I spend on the phone with our health insurance, trying to figure out why they won't pay Noe's claims. Days I spend looking for qualified therapists for our ABA program, or trying to convince the ones we have to stick around even though we can't pay them what they're worth and they have no health insurance. There are evenings when I spend 4 hours getting Noe to settle down for bed, only to have him wake up every hour during the night. On his worst days, Noe can't focus enough to play or learn and reverts to his own world where he spins his toys or claps his hands or laughs hysterically at nothing in a corner by himself. On those days, when no amount of coaxing or bribing will bring him back, I go to my bedroom and scream into my pillow. I curse his autism and ask God, in all of His power, why He won't bring Noe back to us.

I am learning that some miracles come fast, others slow, and I'm redefining what Noe's miracle will entail. It will be the sum of the resources, energy and time we put into his therapy regiment over many years. It will encapsule all of the hard work Noe puts into his own therapy sessions. It will be amazing teachers and therapists along the way that find ways to motivate him to learn.

That said, I still wish all I had to do was change deodarant brands.