Particle Man

March 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Ann Brown, Family

By: Ann Brown

Robin and I are sleeping apart.

It’s not the first time in thirty years of marriage that he has retreated to the downstairs couch and it probably won’t be the last. We’ve been here before. There was the time he spent three hundred dollars on a wood chipper when we had a specific agreement that neither one of us can spend more than two hundred dollars without discussing it with the other one first.  And then there was the time he refused to apologize to me for siding with the nurse when she said I was not dilated during labor with our second kid, and I TOTALLY WAS FULLY DILATED. That particular fight occurred seventeen years after the baby was born, when I was retelling the story at a dinner party, but still.  In fact, just talking about it now kinda pisses me off at Robin. And the baby will be twenty-five next autumn.

Once, I even bolted the downstairs door shut so he couldn’t get upstairs if he wanted to. I was really mad that time although right now I cannot remember why. And anyway, I unbolted the door after, like, ten minutes because I am a hand wringer by nature and the worry about a fire or other disaster ultimately trumped my anger. I will never make a good torturer. I’d be, all, I am totally gonna waterboard you now, and then I’d think to myself, oy gevalt. A person could drown that way. Or get very scared and develop a psychological issue. And then I’d put away the bucket and we’d talk about feelings for a while. Maybe have a nice piece of cake or something.

Still, this time Robin has really moved out. He took his stuff downstairs – pillows, blankets, toiletries – and settled in downstairs. I snuck down and took all the good towels and sheets, leaving him with the old schmattes we inherited from my parents and the funky crap the kids brought back from college with them. I also gathered my favorite books and CD’s from downstairs and squirreled them away up in our (my) bedroom. He is not going to even touch my stuff.

We are going to live this way for two weeks.

Doctor’s orders.

Robin has begun radioactive treatment for cancer, and he is quarantined until he can no longer contaminate the rest of us. In the old days, a person went to the hospital to remain in isolation for the duration of this kind of treatment, but I guess now the doctors figure that he has less chance of catching, I don’t know, diphtheria or polio if he stays at home. I hear that some people go to hotels for a week or so. That idea, frankly, appeals to me in a huge way, but leaving his radioactivity for some unsuspecting hotel maid would bring some really bad karma on us. And between Robin’s ethics and my nervous Jewish stomach, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.

And so it begins.

We are three days into this sixteen-day adventure. I prepared for this event for days; I covered all the remote controls and his computer keypad with plastic wrap, I sealed off shelves in the bathroom armoire, I took all the clean laundry that usually languishes on the couch and dumped it upstairs on the guest bed. I used up all my adrenaline by yesterday afternoon. Then I spent the rest of the day eating vanilla pudding and drawing pictures of Spiderman and making copies of those fallout shelter signs and pasting them all over our front door. And then I took them down because what if we need the paramedics and they won’t come in because Robin is radioactive?

And then I put them back up because, you know, karma. And being forthcoming. And all that crap.

God, it is exhausting being an ethical person.

Robin was diagnosed with cancer on our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Really. Thirty years earlier, we stood under the chuppah and Robin’s dad – a Universal Life Church minister ordained by mail –blessed our union while the golf course next door blasted their announcements through a P.A. system that, I swear, was intended to bring in ships from the deep sea.

“Stevenson, your golf cart is ready. STEVENSON!” Those were the words we heard as Robin and I kissed for the first time as husband and wife. Even now, sometimes when we kiss, I like to break away and yell, “STEVENSON!” Oh, and we laugh merrily. And then Robin says, “Can you stop doing that, really? After thirty years, it’s still not funny.” And then I get all huffy and say to him, “Really? Uh, which one of us is the comedy writer and which one of us works in solar technology?”

And then he rolls his eyes and says, “I don’t want to fight. I just wanted to kiss you.”

But I can’t let it go.

And then he says, “If you don’t want to have sex, just say so.”

I love how he gets me.

So. It’s almost nine o’clock on the morning of Day Three. I am waiting to hear him ring his bell, to let me know he’s up and ready for breakfast. I’ve already eaten two breakfasts -you know, to keep up my strength for the days ahead. I have been power eating and carb loading since, it seems, the diagnosis. For my strength, of course. I have gotten so strong already that my underpants are tight.  If I get any stronger I’m gonna have to dig out my twenty-four-year-old maternity underpants. Which will piss me off at Robin all over again because he didn’t believe me when I said I was dilated.

But then I will remember that he has cancer. And I am heartbroken over it.

This is not how we thought we’d celebrate our thirtieth year together. But in a weird way, this is exactly the kind of thing that reassures us we are a strong, enduring couple. We’ve got each other’s backs in life’s crapstorms. He lives with my varicose veins and my drooly bite guard, and the little quirk I have about forbidding him to cook or eat any stinky food when I’ve just washed my hair. I live with his ear whiskers and the fact that he still thinks it is hilarious to pull my pants down when he is following me up the stairs. We could both have done worse.

Thirteen more days of isolation. Thirty-nine more meals from the No-Iodine diet that prepares his body for the radioactive medicine. We’ve finally figured out a system for getting food to him: He opens the door at the foot of the stairs and reaches up as far as he can. I stand on the landing and lean over the banister and stretch and reach and lunge until I spill hot soup on his arm and he screams in pain. I am also doing my part by eating all the bread in the house that contains iodine. Which is, all bread. I know, I’m an awesome wife.

When this is all over, when Robin is pronounced healthy we are going to celebrate our anniversary. Even if it’s a year late. We’ve been talking about having a big party or going to Mexico or maybe just staying in bed and eating sushi and watching “Cash Cab”. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that we have at least another thirty years together.

So Robin can realize that I was really, truly, fully dilated and he totally owes me an apology.



[Photo Credit: cseeman]


Urban Family: What Would Wade Do?

February 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Ann Brown, Family

By: Ann Brown

white people and black people becoming friends

I ran into my African American friend today.

You know Wade? Yeah, he’s African American. I have an African American friend. A real one, too, not some African American person I recognize because we go to the same bank or dentist or something. Wade comes to my house and everything. He has even been here when I’m not home.

Okay, that’s not true, but I wanted to stress that we are so close, I would totally let him come here when I wasn’t home. Although not with all his kids. One of them is a vomiter.

There are precious few things a nice, white, suburban Jewish girl can do that are cooler than having a black friend. Especially with my family history of political activism, being friends with Wade is the official PC notary stamp on my life. I love that I can tap into my militant angst and rage against the machine right alongside my strong, angry African American brother.

Like this afternoon? At the market? Wade’s wife couldn’t find a gift card for Justice. Even though she totally saw them there the day before. Hate crime. Fucking A.

Oh yeah. They shop at a store called JUSTICE. Man, they are so fucking hot. Compare that name to Safeway. SAFE way. Puhleeze. Even I want to beat myself up for being so white.

And yes, I did check out Justice on their pink and purple website. And yes, they do sell Webkins and Zhu Zhu pets and pink go-go boots, but still. It’s called Justice, for fuck’s sake. I am totally shopping there from now on for all my…er…cute ‘n cozy pj’s and 4-undies-to-a-pack in lollipop colors.

I wanna be like Wade. I want oppression issues. Cool ones, not stupid shit like demanding a Hanukah menorah next to the Christmas tree in in front of the library or lodging a complaint that school dances are on Friday nights when, supposedly, all the Jews are in temple. Because they aren’t. I know; I’M in temple and there are A LOT of empty spaces in the pews. I’m just saying.

Everything Wade does is cool. Like, this one time…um…um…hunh. Well, nothing specific comes to mind but believe me, when you are black like Wade, with a shaved head and a ‘tude, everything you do is cool. Well, except when he wears that Christmas sweater with the dog angels on it. Even Wade can’t sex up that weenie thing.

Or when he hit his elbow on the corner of the coffee table and he, like, practically howled and kept talking about it all fucking evening.

Or when he dances. Yikes.

I joke. I’ve never seen Wade dance. It would be racist of me to try and get him to do it and I just don’t see it coming up authentically in our everyday conversation. It would be like if he said to me, “oh, by the way, Jew, will you come over and count my money?”

And I’d say, “what money? You don’t have any money, homey.”

And he’d say, “yeah, cuz your people stole all of it to buy the banks and movie studios, bitch.”

And then we’d laugh merrily and toast to our awesomeness.

‘Cause Wade ‘n me, that’s how we roll.

‘K. Later.


Hell No, We Won’t Go. Unless we Can Drive There.

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Ann Brown, Family

By: Ann Brown

Portland mom writes about the days of being a hippy, protesting and doing lot’s of drugs.

I miss the Vietnam War.

Well, I miss the protests, I mean.

I miss the anger and the energy I had and also I miss the embroidered Mexican peasant blouses I used to wear to the protests. Man, Protest Couture was rippin’ in the 60′s. Embroidered jeans, embroidered blouses, sandals, braids, leather purse with fringes and a pocketful of joints. No wonder we were all sleeping with each other. We were all so damn cute. And stoned.

Being part of a protest march these days just isn’t the same as it used to be for me because my feet can’t walk in sandals all day anymore. I tried that in New York this summer when Robin and I walked from midtown to Chelsea and back which was not so much a protest or political statement as it was that we were looking for this really good Italian restaurant someone told us about. But still.

And putting on Easy Spirit walking shoes, support socks, and Spanx to go out and protest is so depressing. Plus, there is the whole humidity on hair issue.

The fact is, a person really doesn’t feel like helping other people when she doesn’t feel good about what she’s wearing. When a person doesn’t look good, she pretty much just wants to be left alone to soak her blisters in the Crock Pot and watch “The Amazing Race”.

Which is why – due to having nothing to wear to protest marches – I can take no credit for anything good that has come to be in the past, oh, twenty five or so years. Except my kids. I take full credit for them, save for the years they ate their boogers.

Oh, I mean I do my part, albeit in the most minimal fashion. I vote, I compost, I rocked an Obama lawn sign, I scream at the TV whenever I see Meg Whitman or Palin or Heidi Klum saying for the gazillionth fucking time, “one day you’re in and the next day you’re out.” Really, Heidi, do you think that’s a unique observation? You think no one has ever realized that’s true about life, much less about fashion? I mean, God love you, Heidi – I can forgive whatever your grandfather may or may not have done during the war (even though they ALL swear that THEIR grandparents were part of the Resistance. Right. EVERYONE’s grandparents were part of the Resistance. I guess there were only, like, eleven actual Nazis during the war) – you seem like good people, Heidele, but for God’s sake, shut up already with the “one day you’re in and the next day you’re out.” And between you and me, you look as if you are really enjoying saying it each time. Which, again just between you and me, is kinda Nazi-like behavior. I’m just saying.

I think if I could find some really comfortable, really youthful shoes I could get back into protest marching. And maybe a terry cloth sweat band with, like, a hammer and sickle embroidered on it. Under the swoosh.

And I could protest-march three times a week, for about 45 minutes, for heart health.

Wait. The weather here in Oregon sucks. My hair would be all Roseanne Roseannadanna and shit in about five minutes. Never mind. No protest marching.

AHA! I will march around a shopping mall! I will bring back the revolutionary spirit of the 60′s. Maybe carry a few placards. You know, as arm weights.

Who’s with me? Okay, then. We meet next week at o’dark hundred in front of Cinnabons.

Cinnabons Recipe
1 1/4 oz. pkg. active dry yeast (I used 2 1/2 tsp.),1 cup warm water (105 to 110°F) ,1/2 cup granulated sugar ,1/3 cup margarine, mel
1 tsp salt ,2 eggs ,4 cups all-purpose flour 
1 cup packed brown sugar, 2 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon , 1/3 cup margarine, softened 
1 stick margarine, softened 
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar 
2 oz. cream cheese 
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 
1/8 tsp. salt 
For the rolls, dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large bowl. Mix together the sugar, margarine, salt and eggs. Add flour and yeast mixture and mix well. 
Knead the dough into a large bowl, using your hands dusted lightly with flour. Put in a bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size. 
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough flat until it is approx. 21″ long and 16″ wide. It should be about 1/4″ thick. 
Preheat the oven to 400°F
For the filling, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Spread the softened margarine evenly over the surface of the dough, and then sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar evenly over the surface. 
Working carefully from the top (a 21″ side) roll the dough down to the bottom edge. 
Cut the rolled dough into 1 3/4″ slices and place 6 at a time evenly spaced, in a lightly greased baking pan. Let the rolls rise again until double in size (about 30 minutes). Bake for 10-15 minutes or until light brown on top. 
While the rolls bake, combine the icing ingredients. Beat well with an electric mixer until fluffy. 
When the rolls come out of the oven, coat each generously with icing. 
Makes 12 rolls )

These can be frozen after baking. Just pop one into the microwave for 20-30 seconds to reheat.

See? Exposing the corporate secret recipe of Cinnabons is already subverting the dominant paradigm. The 60′s are back, baby.

See you at the mall.


Bike Ride

August 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Danny Thomas, Family

By: Danny Thomas

Today we went for a bike ride…
We left the house at about 9:30 am.
The children’s interest in breakfast was nominal…
As was my interest in engaging in a battle over sitting at the table and eating…
So knowing that we had a long, car-less day ahead of us, I undertook a previously talked about and anticipated loooong bike ride to a particular park that we drive past often – but that is about twice as far as our usual bike ride… a four mile trip.
The ride there was fabulous – we tried one time before but did not make it – we have to cross a lot of busy streets and parking lots to get there so I am a stickler about good listening and careful riding.
This time Lil’ Chaos did amazingly well – stuck close and followed directions with zero attitude.
We had a great time at the park – although the park leaves a little to be desired – there is a ginormous grassy hill which is cool – but the playground is kind of sucky – it does not have many great climbing toys and does have the dreaded merry-go-round – or as I like to call it “the concussion on wheels.”
On the way home –as our energy was wearing thin and we were riding against the wind – Wobzilla fell asleep hunched over my handlebars…
The return trip – no matter how great or small the distance – is often a challenge for Lil’ Chaos and me.
I am ready to be home and often uncomfortably hot and sweaty… duh.
Lil’ Chaos is usually tired and, in line with the converse, non-linear logic of the pre-k set, not eager to get home…
She goes slow.
I mean snail slow…
I try to let her lead and set the pace but I start to fall off my bike…
We stop and look at every slightly discolored blade of grass. Air becomes a distraction.
She starts to complain about her hair, her shoes, her skin…
If I move ahead, at any speed, I am going too fast…
Today, I vowed to myself not to fall into that pattern.
I would be patient. She could set the pace, we could examine the flattened bumblebees on the sidewalk – we didn’t have any where to be; Wobzilla was asleep on my handlebars, no problem…

We made a friend.
A poor, unsuspecting, twenty-something jogger…
Maya latched on to him and for 6 blocks quizzed him on topics ranging from his love life (Are you married? to a boy or a girl? Why?), to fashion (your shoes are white, white, white, white…), to modes of transport (Why are you running? Do you have a bike? Do you have a motorcycle?).
He was very conversational and polite and friendly, open to her interview. I’d say we were actually all quite entertained (except Wobzilla who was drooling on the handlebars…).
But then we hit the section of the trip with many busy driveways, with lots of traffic, with big four-lane intersections, all that stuff that makes me nervous even when I’m on a bike by myself…
Lil’ Chaos did not want to take a break from interviewing her new pal and take directions from me – and she made it very clear.
I tried to be patient, I tried to be understanding… I didn’t want to dampen the joy of spontaneous conversation with friendly strangers as I find it to be one of life’s most pleasant, enlightening, uplifting and sometimes mystical experiences… far be it from me to poop all over that kind of experience, on the other hand, if one rides one’s bike into an F250 hauling a ton of bark mulch out of the Home Depot driveway, there is a chance all future pleasant, enlightening and uplifting conversations with strangers will be limited to a handful of nurses and doctors…
Lil’ Chaos was not convinced – and we shifted into our typical stubborn mule mode of return ride… me leading a block ahead – circling back with, first, words of encouragement, then optimistic bargaining, then angry appeals, then pleas of desperation.
Needless to say, we went head to head, we both lost it – and the joy of the day’s bike ride ended up with what I guess is the typical tarnish of the family experience –conflict…
What I am thinking about now is if there is a positive way to approach this inevitable conflict, how to channel it, how to use it; I know conflict is vital and necessary to human interaction, as a collaborative artist, on a philosophical and intellectual level I can totally get behind that – as a father it’s pretty demoralizing…
I ended up riding home trying to imagine myself through the jogger’s eyes, which just led me to question every choice I made….
Am I overreacting?
Did I overreact?
Am I over protective?
Am I too detached?
Over attached?
Under attached?
An attaché?
Could I be more compassionate?
Am I too soft?
Am I too inconsistent, swinging moment to moment between understanding advocate and firm authoritarian?
Questions, questions, questions…
It’s always been a pretty vociferous part of my inner monologue – but as a parent the noise is deafening.
I guess it’s good and healthy to be analytical, to question and examine our choices, work out a different plan, or figure out how to alter the plan for next time.
Tonight, it feels like a lot of work…


Looking For Things

August 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Family, Tanya Ward Goodman

By: Tanya Ward Goodman

I’ve been looking for things. I’ve been looking for a car for my mom. A sweatshirt for my kid. I’ve been looking for a recipe for ice cream and a pair of flat-soled sandals. I’ve looked for dog sitters and low interest loans. Just for kicks, I looked for a lakeside cabin and a room at the Four Seasons.

When I sit down in front of the computer, I have the whole world at my fingertips. I could look for a flat in Paris, a rug in Turkey, a flight to Stowe, Vermont. I could seek out that poem I read in tenth grade – you know the one about the strawberries that was really about sex? I could look for bedside tables or chamomile tea and some days, I do. Time speeds past as “I wonder?” becomes, “oh, that much?”

When I’m not at the computer, I look for shoes and socks, for the flip top of a water bottle and for the little pink dress that belongs to Olivia the doll. I look for a missing lunchbox and a misplaced jacket. I look for the dog and I look for things that she might chew. Around about six, when I’m looking through the fridge for dinner, I start looking for my husband to return.

I need to do less looking. I need to find myself sitting in a chair, looking at a book or looking out the window. I’d like to look in order to see and not just to find.


Of Dead Bunnies, Facebook and Nazis. Again.

August 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Ann Brown, Family

By: Ann Brown

So I was listening to NPR the other day and I heard something that made me think.

Generally, it’s not a good idea for me to listen to something that makes me think while I am driving because it is getting more and more difficult to focus on any one thing at a time, and if I have to choose between paying attention to the road and, say, eating, pouring EmergenC powder into my bottle of water, looking for cash or fixating on the spot of thinning hair that is showcased in my rear view mirror, well, it’s pretty much a six of one kind of thing.

Still, so far (knock wood, spit three times and swing a live chicken) I’ve managed to arrive where I am going without much collateral damage but I know it’s just a matter of time. Which should serve as a warning for those of you on the greater Portland metro roads.

Still, it’s hard to keep the mind from wandering. Or maybe it’s not wandering at all; maybe I am mentally on my way to something HUGE, something life-changing, a cure for cancer, and every time I start to get close I shake my head and yell, “snap out of it!” and concentrate on driving.

Hunh. Maybe it is the actual daydreaming that we are supposed to be doing, and the real life shit is the distraction. Go fill the bong and think about that for a while.

Back so soon?

Mostly, I think about what’s not going right in my life. I cannot get behind the “count your blessings” movement because that kind of shit leaves me with a “so, now what?” aftertaste, like after I finish what other people consider a normal portion of food but for me is merely an amuse-bouche. I mean, fuuuuck, is ONE cup of cooked rice enough for anyone?????? I spill that much onto my clothes when I eat.

And then, admittedly, I pick it off my clothes and eat it. I do it as an act of solidarity with those who have no rice. Or clothes.

I have recently, however, come across a plan to help me be more appreciative and less negative:

The bar is now set at, “there are no dead bunnies in my yard.”

Go ahead. Say it to yourself. Don’t you feel better about your life already?

I didn’t just pull this declaration out of a hat, so to speak. My friend Rich wrote on my Facebook wall that his summer was going okay, save for the dead bunnies in his yard.

That might be the most awesome thing anyone has ever written on a Facebook wall.

I mean, if one can set the bar there, if dead bunnies in your yard don’t even stop you from saying your summer is going, all things considered, OKAY, then pretty much nothing is going to harsh your mellow.

It’s like Anne Frank writing on her Facebook wall, “well, other than the Nazis finding us behind the bookcase and sending us to the death camp, it was a pretty kickass autumn.” And maybe she’d add an “LOL”. And we’d want to click “like” but we’d worry that she’d think we liked that the Nazis found her, not that we liked her status update.

God, Facebook would have been so complicated during the Holocaust. Can you imagine?

I am going to get in my car and drive to the market so I can really think about it.


Fly Away

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Family, Tanya Ward Goodman

By: Tanya Ward Goodman

For the first time ever, my husband and I boarded a plane without our children. Our luggage consisted of a single rolling bag. Our needs were so meager that we didn’t even have to sit on the lid of the suitcase to zip it shut. We both carried novels. We packed three (yes, three) back issues of The New Yorker.

Here’s what we didn’t pack: booster seats, DVDs of Scooby Doo, watermelon scented sunscreen, Harry Potter books, matchbox cars, small motorized hamsters.

That’s right, we were traveling light. We were traveling without the kids.

And where were we going? Paris? Milan? Seattle? New York?

We were going to Madison, Wisconsin. And we were thrilled.

Upon our arrival, we piloted our (compact) rental car through the deepening evening. We turned on “Packers Avenue” and drove past signs for cheese. We couldn’t help but notice that anything that might ordinarily be called a “house” in California was, in Wisconsin, a “haus.”

Wisconsin is green. The houses in town sit on wide, emerald lawns. Queen Anne’s Lace grows tall by the side of the road. In Wisconsin, your money goes farther than it does in Los Angeles (or Paris or Seattle or Milan or New York.) In Wisconsin, we could sleep in a king sized bed. We could soak in a Jacuzzi tub and eat breakfast in our bathrobes while enjoying a view of the lake. And we did.

We crammed a weeklong vacation into just under forty-eight hours. We had a nice dinner: organic grass-fed beef for him, seared barramundi with fresh, local zucchini for me. The Tai basil ice-cream and fresh pressed coffee rivaled any dessert offerings I’ve had lately in Los Angeles and the tiny, lavender infused sugar cookies presented with our bill were sweet as good-bye kisses.

Back at the hotel, we adjourned to “The Governor’s Lounge” for a nightcap and found that our room rate included a view of the capitol building as well as Maker’s Mark bourbon and a selection of cakes. We turned down the bartender’s effusive offer of “one for the room.” Was it because we were without our kids that the lure of clean sheets was greater than the lure of alcohol?

After sleeping through the night and waking up only when we really felt like we’d had enough sleep, we headed out into the sunshine to find ourselves in the middle of a farmer’s market. Shaded by bright “Badger Red” tents, locals presented a cornucopia of delectable items. Bright bunches of beets and carrots shared table space with rhubarb, chard and cauliflower (in “personal” and “family” sizes.) There were strawberry hand pies and whoopee pies and piles of “squeaky fresh” crayon orange cheese curds. And everywhere people were smiling and talking and greeting their neighbors.

“In New York, if you bump into someone, they punch you,” I overheard. “Here, they tell you to have a nice day.”

A couple of hours later, after changing clothes, we’d driven out to farm country to watch my husband’s college friend marry the girl of his dreams. Cicada song floated in the air and the mosquitoes kept mercifully at bay. The smell of roasted pig mingled with that of cut hay and a distant scent of manure. Local beer was passed in pitchers and when everyone had eaten enough pie, we were invited by a trio of grown men in Lederhosen to “polka ‘til we dropped.” It was a wonderful day.

And it wasn’t over. After a nap (Oh, glorious nap. Why do kids fight a nap?), we headed out to the edge of the lake to meet up with more friends. Fireworks lit the distant shore, shrunken by distance to the size of sparklers in the hand. Bats dived for insects just above the water and the plink, plunk of a tuning guitar carried over from a nearby bandshell. We ate buttered popcorn and sipped beers and talked about all the things one should talk about in the night on a college campus beneath an almost full moon. Much, much later, as we walked home (after midnight – so late!), we marveled at how much distance had passed between us and the drunken college students all around us.

I didn’t miss my youth. I didn’t envy those kids theirs. I felt happy to be an adult, a grown-up with kids of my own. I felt happy to be away from those kids and I felt happy that I would see them again, too. My husband’s hand felt warm in mine and at that moment, I wished the newlyweds all the happiness I had found.


Road Trip 2010: Tale #1 -In Which Robin Inadvertently Makes An Untoward Advance And We Leave Town Quickly

July 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Ann Brown, Family

By: Ann Brown

The first argument of the trip was about whistling.

Robin whistled along to the Bob Marley CD, tapping the rhythm on the steering wheel and, every few measures, on my leg. I smiled at him and joined in on the whistling. Now, you know me; I don’t indulge in insincere gratuitous self-congratulation, preferring, instead, to indulge in insincere gratuitous self-deprecation but I must mention that my whistling skills, specifically my harmony whistling skills, might be considered reason enough to invite me along on a two week road trip to California. That, and my skill of guessing to the penny exactly how much fuel the car will take at every gas station stop. Which is not so much a skill, I’ve been told, as much as meaningless and a pain in the ass and something people really wish I would stop doing.

“Don’t whistle, okay?” Robin asked gently.

“Why? You are whistling.”

“Your whistling hurts my ears,” Robin said.

“Seriously?” I really tried to make my voice sound sincere, like I wanted to know, like I cared.

“Yeah. The high pitch or something. Please stop.”

I remember the exact moment he said that. It was in the last moments of daylight, the bonus moments of the Summer Solstice that allowed us front row, awesome views of snowy Mt. Shasta against a purple night sky in which Venus’ light guided us east. Or north. Or south. I have no idea.

I was ready to get into the fight, ready to draw upon my rapier wit for a sharp retort that would not only vindicate my whistling but also feature Robin’s wish to have me stop whistling  a serious character flaw that, really, only analysis (and the subsequent blame on his mother) could address. I am pretty good at bringing a lot of unnecessary shit into an argument, a shock and awe barrage of oblique references and ancient issues presumed dormant, until the original point is obscured and the reigning point is that, well, that I am a saint, and Robin – exhausted and defeated – develops a kidney stone.

This time, however, I took it like a champ. I stopped whistling (well, I didn’t actually stop but I did whistle an octave lower than I was, which seemed to fix the problem) and, instead, focused on the mind-blowing sight of Mt. Shasta outside my car window.

We were leaving Klamath Falls after deciding not to stay the night after all, to push on for a few more hours. I was relatively mellow – for me – mulling over the random shit that life reveals when you least expect it, like eating dinner at a restaurant in Klamath, chilling, schmoozing with the guys at the table next to you who, as it turns out, recognize you from three hours earlier when you made Robin pull the car over on the highway so you could spread out a towel to lay  down on the side of the road and get some sun because it had been raining for, like, 46 days in a row and even Oregonians who aren’t tanorexic like you are were going out of their minds and fuck if you were going to let fifteen minutes of blue skies go to waste sitting inside your car even though we were only a few hours into our two-week trip to sunny Southern California and no matter that Robin had that look on his face that I have come to realize means he is mentally researching residential facilities for when he finally has collected enough evidence to have me committed.

“We saw you back on Highway 23, in the sun,” Rick said as we sat down at the table next to his. “Pretty damn funny.”

The mildly interesting coincidence that we wound up eating dinner at the table next to Rick was quickly eclipsed by what came next: The Itinerant Locals, a husband/wife, tuba/accordion duo (check them out:, with their two young children, stepped off the train (the station serendipitously situated next to the restaurant) and proceeded to set up right in front of us.

Now, this kind of shit usually only happens when you are too stoned to know if it’s real or not. But there they were, a Mick Jagger lookalike tuba player in red plaid polyester pants and top hat, and his beautiful redheaded accordion playing wife, rocking the shit out of a polka-tempo Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”.

Sitting back and digging it is all you can do because nothing can make a moment like that better than it already is.

Except when Robin turns to Rick’s wife and yells over the music, “would you like to polka?” and she thinks he said, “would you like to pole dance?” and there is a huge awkward pause during which – I bet -  Rick rethought the whole thing, starting with his now regrettable friendly “hello” when we walked into the restaurant.

And the only thing that can make the moment even more awkward is if I – who heard Robin correctly – turn to Rick’s wife and say, “Go ahead. Robin is a great partner!”  Robin’s wingman, as it were, as if we are touring swingers who get off on luring small town high school French teachers innocently having dinner with their husbands on a Monday evening into straddling patio support beams and hanging upside down while the animal beat of polka music whips us into sexual frenzy.

After something like that, the budding friendship was pretty much shot to hell. Rick and his wife scooted their chairs to the far end of their table and Robin and I decided to keep driving on through the night instead of asking them if they could recommend a motel.

And thus, three hours later, we wound up in Redding. In a Best Western motel room overlooking the pool and hot tub. In which a sweet young couple, perhaps newlyweds, lolled amid the bubbles, enjoying the midnight stars of the night of the Summer Solstice. And softly whistling along to the music from the motel bar.

No, not really. But that would have been a kickass ending to this story.


Ann Brown is a freelance writer from Portland, OR.


Small Town Cure

June 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Family, Tanya Ward Goodman

By: Tanya Ward Goodman

In the last few weeks, I have felt like my nerves were pushing to the surface of my skin, shooting up quick as bean plants breaking the soil. When I closed my eyes, I could imagine these tender sprouts grazed by the world around me. Sounds have been louder, sensations more intense. I forget what I’m saying mid-sentence and things — my keys, my mail, the dog’s leash – go missing. My children (hearts of my heart) seem rough and shrill, the sound of a gardener’s mower or the roar of a garbage truck are deafening.

But today things are different. The volume in my world has been turned down to a reasonable level.

No, I am not under the bed with a pillow over my head.

I’ve just returned from a visit to the town of Camas, Washington. Just a short hop from Portland, Camas is a paper town (the mill is pretty much right where you’re looking whenever you look.) Camas has a tiny main street boasting a historic hotel, a handful of restaurants and shops and a yoga studio.

It was a sort of family reunion. We came from New Mexico, Wisconsin, California and Arizona to celebrate a high school graduate. This tall, rangy kid with the towhead and the big smile holds some pretty solid real estate in all of our hearts. While he was busy with cap and gown wearing and all night laser tag celebrations, we wandered the narrow streets of Camas.

Two blocks down, four blocks across, we crisscrossed the streets, in varying combinations. My stepmother and I bought dresses while her mother visited a hair salon a few doors away. I shared a few yoga poses with my stepmother’s partner on a wide spot in the sidewalk. We all walked into the hardware store looking for batteries and met a fat cat named Coaster. We tasted olive oil and shared a piece of rhubarb cake. And eventually, we separated and returned to our own rooms to read and nap before meeting up again to take another ramble around town.

Very little of my weekend was spent in a car. I watched no television and read no newspapers. I caught up with my New Yorker subscription and finished a novel. I took a nap. I took two really long showers. I had a series of long conversations.

I felt present and sturdy and calm.

With the roar of my world down to a bare hum, I felt like I was really listening — that I could really listen.

When I arrived home, my son catapulted his body toward mine and instead of flinching; I stood strong to receive and return his embrace.

My challenge is to create the rhythms of this small town weekend in my very big city everyday. As we head into summer, I hope to keep this slow pace and share it with my children and my husband. I know there are things to get done, but there is plenty of time.


Family Dinners

June 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Family

By: Amy Forstadt

Once upon a time, a long time ago, my kid went to bed promptly at 7:30. I would then whip up something delicious (yet easy!) and John and I would have a quiet dinner together, usually by 8, often in front of the TV (shut up). In this magical time, my child was just an itty bitty baby and/or beginning toddler, and had no concept of us all eating together. Or fighting bedtime, for that matter.

But now, a few measly years later, bedtime has slipped to 8, 8:15, sometimes even 8:30. Blame it on my kid’s advanced age (three), daylight savings time, mom’s laziness urge to spend more time with him, what have you, but the quiet, adult dinners in front of the tube are coming to an end. No way am I eating dinner at nine at night. What are we, French? Also, I’ve started to wonder if maybe we should begin those do-it-or-your-kid-will-end-up-in-juvie family dinners that society is always pressuring me about. It sounds like a great idea, in theory, but thinking about the mechanics of it is actually a little mind-boggling. I’ve got lots of issues and questions, so I’m depending on you, my loyal readers (hi mom) to help me solve them. If you’ve got any suggestions for any of my issues, or anything I haven’t brought up yet, please don’t hesitate. Be bossy. Tell me what to do. I like it that way!

1. Timing.8:30 just feels too late for Benjie to go to bed. I’d like it to be closer to eight. But I don’t get home from work with him until about 6:30. So that means I’d have to get dinner on the table at seven, so whatever I make would have to only take half an hour. And it leaves me no time to change clothes, check e-mail, or even sit down for a second.

2. Food. Maybe Benjie can live on a diet of fish sticks/hot dogs/pita bread pizzas, but John and I can’t. Okay, John could, but I can’t. And I’m not sure how I’m going to make one healthy, delicious family dinner in 30 minutes, much less two. But that means I’m going to need a whole stable full of new recipes, ones both kids and adults can enjoy. A whole stable full!

3. Pissiness. Is coming home from work and rushing around to make dinner with no time to decompress going to turn me into a cranky beotch? This is a definite possibility. Family dinners don’t seem so worth it if your mom is tearing her hair out.

How do people do it? Get a healthy and nutritious dinner on the table that’s good for the whole family without wielding a carving knife (or garlic press for gentler souls) at anyone who gets in their way? If any of you out there are doing it, even sometimes, please share your wisdom with me. Dinner is only a few hours away.


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