Lead Me Home—Cover Reveal!


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LMH front cover draft for PDF 8-31-15It’s almost here!

My novel, Lead Me Home, will be out later this fall. For now, smile with me at a close-to-final version of the cover.

To follow my final progress on Lead Me Home and learn more about the book, you can

Choose whichever method works best for you.

Many thanks to readers of this blog, who have inspired me to keep writing for almost four years now. You’re the best!

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck


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I have immersed myself in the nineteenth century over the last few weeks, editing my Oregon Trail novel for what I hope has been the final big push. It still needs some tweaking, but the book is essentially done.

Rinker Buck coverWhile I was spending hours each day deep in my novel, I read each evening from The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck. Mr. Buck and his brother Nick drove a covered wagon powered by three mules from Kansas to Oregon in 2011. Their family background gave them unique skills to tackle this endeavor—their father had taken them on many covered wagon rides in the East when they were growing up. As an adult, Nick was a master mechanic and muleskinner.

Rinker Buck’s book is part memoir, part history, part travelogue, and part social commentary. All parts are enjoyable.

It was a good counterpoint for me as I worked my way through my novel, giving me a foil against which either to confirm what I wrote about my emigrants or to understand why my account differed from what the Bucks experienced.

I had to remind myself as I read that Mr. Rinker could recount the entire history of the Oregon Trail, from Lewis and Clark through the 1890s. He includes accounts of the Mormon migration and influence, the Gold Rush years, and the Pony Express. I, on the other hand, have been limited to writing about the trail as it existed in 1847—the year my fictional wagon train heads to Oregon.

So each time I said “Yeah, but . . .” as I read, I re-grounded myself in his purpose and in my purpose, and then went back to Mr. Buck’s story, which was engrossing in every way. And I fixed one error in my manuscript that I caught while reading his book.

Mr. Buck tells his readers up front that his journey was not a reenactment of the Oregon Trail emigrants. They used a nineteenth century wagon designed along the same specifications as the emigrant wagons. They rigged their mule harnesses the same way. But they made many adaptations, such as pulling an extra cart behind their wagon (the ill-fated Trail Pup which hauled extra water and mule feed).

And they didn’t shun modern conveniences and facilities along the way. They traveled part of the route on asphalt roads. When their equipment broke down, they found ranchers to help them with repairs or sent broken gear back East to be fixed. They camped frequently in public parks and corrals or on ranches through which they traveled. At one point, a minivan’s headlights guided them into camp. They bought clothes at Wal-Mart and food in grocery stores. (I had to laugh when Mr. Buck described stopping at a diner for fried chicken. No diners available in 1847.)

But the Bucks faced many of the same problems the nineteenth century emigrants did. They planned their route from water source to water source. They had to chuck belongings along the way to reduce weight. Rinker Buck escaped the discomfort and monotony of the wagon by walking for at least part of the day while his brother drove. And weather turned from pleasant to treacherous in the space of minutes.

I discovered that the emigrants of the nineteenth century had some advantages that the Buck brothers did not. For one, the wagon trains didn’t have to worry about cattle guards.

But more importantly, as Mr. Buck points out, the emigrants could pool their resources—food and water, tools, and the labor that dozens of men and teams could provide. I had intuited the sense of community that wagon trains developed along the trail, but in my novel, their forced togetherness also provides a lot of the conflict in the story.

Despite its lack of authenticity in some respects, Mr. Buck’s book is still an excellent resource for anyone interested in the Oregon Trail. He provides more detail on wagon construction and mule driving than any of the books I previously encountered in my research. (He made an excellent case for mules over oxen, though other wagoneers made equally strong cases for oxen.)

He also provides pictures and drawings that show the particulars of their wagon construction, the harnessing of their mules, and the beauty of the land they traversed. His descriptions of locales in the West jibed with first-hand accounts from the nineteenth century. Moreover, he and his brother encountered many of the same dangers (thunderstorms, steep ascents and descents, lack of water, and runaway mules) that pioneers in the nineteenth century faced.

Narcissa and Marcus Whitman

Narcissa and Marcus Whitman

I have always been fascinated by the story of Narcissa Whitman, and it seems Rinker Buck was as well. Narcissa was the first white woman to cross the Rockies and settle in Oregon. Her spunk and vitality encouraged me from the time I first visited the Whiman Mission outside Walla Walla, Washington, when I was about eight. Like Mr. Buck, as I learned more about her attitude of white superiority toward the Native Americans she sought to convert, I discovered she was an imperfect heroine. Nevertheless, her story spurred many emigrant women to settle in the West, and it started me on the path to writing about the Oregon Trail.

Mr. Buck expertly weaves personal memoir and public history into his chronology of the journey. As with any meaningful journey experience, he and his brother come out with changed perspectives on life. Mr. Buck generously shares those perspectives with his readers. We end up wondering: Could I survive such a trek? What would it change in me?

I highly recommend The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey as a good read, as well as an informed view on an important period in American history.

What books have immersed you in another time?

P.S. I’m also in the middle of Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder, as edited and annotated by Pamela Smith Hill. This book provides another glimpse into the nineteenth century. It’s also worth a read, if you don’t mind learning the truth behind some of the tales in the beloved Little House books.

Happy Dog Day From a Currently Dog-Free Human


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My sister and Heidi

My sister and Heidi

In this post I reveal my curmudgeonly nature. Today, August 26, is Dog Day. I am happy to report that I neither own, nor am owned by, any dogs at the moment.

I grew up with dogs. My parents owned Punky when I was born, though they had to give her away because she didn’t like me. (Hey, I was just a baby—don’t blame it on me.) My father got Nick, an English Setter, when I was in the first grade. Nick lived until I was in law school. Meanwhile, my parents bought a Schnauzer named Heidi when I was in college, after my sister became allergic to her cat.

Mimi and me

Mimi and me

And one grandmother had a Miniature Poodle named Mimi that I delighted in feeding under the table. I gave her chicken and steak and tried to get her to eat my carrots.

For most of our marriage, my husband and I have owned dogs. The first was a half Brittany Spaniel (and probable half Labrador), which my husband named Rickover, after an admirable admiral. Rickover predated our children. He wasn’t too fond of the little human critters at first, but once they could feed him, he changed his opinion.

Rickover was hit by a car at a young age and broke his pelvis. He recovered, and became a very nice pet, because he no longer jumped on people. In midlife, Rickover got fifteen pounds overweight, and my husband put him on a strict diet—so strict that Rickover spent his evenings licking our kitchen floor. But Rickover lived to be fifteen, so we must have treated him all right, despite the injury and low rations.

Two years after Rickover passed on, we acquired two mutts from the animal shelter—litter mates Sara and Lexi, or more formally, Saratoga and Lexington, named after the aircraft carriers. Sara and Lexi were the result of my children’s successful lobbying. I had loved the two dogless years after Rickover died. We could pick up and leave town any time the four humans could manage it without worrying about who would feed him. But my children thought they needed a pet. So we got two.

Lexi, the alpha dog

Lexi, the alpha dog. She had a curmudgeonly personality like me.

We think Sara and Lexi were Irish Wolfhound mixes. When we got them from the shelter, we were told they’d top out at about forty pounds each. Lexi grew to seventy pounds and Sara to sixty, and they didn’t need to be on diets at those weights.

The only good thing about two dogs is that they entertain each other. Otherwise, they are twice the expense and bother. And somehow, I became responsible for walking them daily, even though we had a perfectly adequate fenced yard. Together, they outweighed me. They got in a couple of dogfights with other neighborhood dogs on those walks. I lost, whether they won or not.

Sara, the omega dog

Sara, the omega dog

Sara and Lexi were very happy when I retired. They could spend the cold winters and hot summers in the kitchen, instead of in the outside dog run. I, on the other hand, was not so happy. My husband had to travel frequently, and I was the sole dog caregiver.

Lexi—the neurotic alpha dog—died in October 2010, at age thirteen-and-a-half. Sara then could relax in her old age, no longer subservient to her dominant sibling. But she, too, passed away in January 2012, just short of her fifteenth birthday.

Sara, about to bolt. She didn't like having her picture taken. Or lightning. Or clothes dryers. Any of these were an excuse to bolt.

Sara, about to bolt. She didn’t like having her picture taken. Or lightning. Or clothes dryers. Anything was an excuse to bolt from the kitchen where she was supposed to stay.

I have now been dogless again for over three years. My husband threatens to get another dog. I tell him he must commit to being sole dog caregiver. He has not yet signed the contract I prepared.

I happily borrow the dogs of other family members. I enjoyed the dogs my parents had late in their lives—another Schnauzer named Mitzi (dumbest dog there ever was, but sweet), a Golden Retriever named Bonnie, and then a Duck Tolling Retriever named Sandy. I’ve become good friends with my mother-in-law’s Portuguese Waterdog, and I’m trying to get my sister-in-law’s dogs to like me, but they are rather stand-offish.

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Langley, the fashion queen

My daughter has a lovely mutt, Langley—named for another aircraft carrier. Langley isn’t the brightest dog either, but she has personality and very soft fur.

The only dogs I really didn’t like were the Boston Terriers that various family members had. They were snorty, snuffly unpleasant creatures. And I’m not crazy about my brother’s overly exuberant Golden Retriever.

So I visit dogs when I need unconditional love. But I am perfectly happy to leave them behind when I go home. I’m done raising kids. Dogs are like toddlers that never grow up. They love you, yes, but they need a lot of care.

I say I’m done raising kids, but I do hope that grandkids come along some day. I’ll consider changing my opinion then. Until then, I’ve done my kid—and dog—duty.

Happy Dog Day! What dogs have you had in your life?

Fighting Fires: Now and Then


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close up fires croppedMany of the forest fires raging in the West this summer are not far from places I know—outside of Twisp and Omak and Okanogan near Lake Chelan in Washington State; Clark Fork near Lake Pend d’Oreille in the Idaho Panhandle; and other fires in Oregon.

I remember fires from lightning raging across Rattlesnake Mountain when I was a child. They never approached close to home, but the smell of smoke wafted into town and lingered for days. The black hillsides reminded us of nature’s power until plant life grew the following year. Sometimes it took several years for the scars to vanish.

As I watch the news reports this summer, particularly when I hear of firefighters dying, I think of my father. It’s not just because he also died this past year, though perhaps that is a factor. It’s because fire-fighting was a part of his personal story. Had he died fighting fires as a youth, like the young men did this past week in Washington State, I would not be here.

My father spent his summers during college fighting forest fires in Idaho. The money was better than any other job he could get, and he relished the freedom of living away from his parents and working outdoors.

1953ish TTC in Idaho 20150311_155121

I think this picture was taken during one of those Idaho summers between 1952 and 1954. He was a skinny guy in those years. The hard physical labor must have built him some muscles, though they’re not particularly evident in this picture.

My father told a few stories about his Idaho summers. None of the stories I remember involved him getting close to flames, though I think he did on occasion. His stories gave me the impression that most of his time was spent hacking through weeds and brush to build fire breaks, not in the dangerous heat and flames we see on television.

My father developed a life-long hatred of weeds. When my brother and I were in grade school, he assigned us the summer chore of pulling weeds out of our backyard gardens—a different flower bed each weekday morning. My brother had an hour of duty each day. I got off with only thirty minutes, if I spent the other thirty minutes practicing the piano. My musical abilities improved rapidly.

Some days during his summers in Idaho, my father’s job was to repair equipment. One day he had to work on the camp’s Jeep. They didn’t have a car lift in the forestry camp, so the Jeep was driven onto planks over a pit, then the men worked underneath it. Apparently, the planks were not very secure, and it was fortunate that the Jeep did not crush the mechanics below. According to my father, the foreman did a lot of cussing when he discovered the rickety set up.

My father’s goal with his summer employment was to earn enough money to cover his college tuition and books for the following school year, and he succeeded. (Of course, he told me frequently that his annual tuition at the University of Washington was $600 in those days—less than books alone would be today.)

For his room and board during college, my father traded off between living and home and living at the fraternity house. When he lived at home, he didn’t pay rent, but what young college man wants to live with his parents? After a quarter, he was usually chomping at the bit to leave.

At the fraternity house, he worked as a short-order cook in the kitchen to cover his living expenses. That’s where he learned to baste eggs and make such yummy pancakes! But after a quarter there, he was ready for the easier life at home.

It’s hard for me to believe my father was ever a 19- to 21-year-old college student facing danger, whether the danger came from fire or from falling Jeeps. I was born before he was 23, just a few years after his fire-fighting summers. He always seemed cautious to me, even when I was a young child. Maybe that was just the face he showed his daughter. Maybe it was the maturity of becoming a parent.

All these memories run through my head as I listen to the evening news. I mourn the deaths of the young firefighters as well as my father’s death. I regret the destruction of some beautiful parts of the nation. And I remember my own small connections to the newsworthy events of the moment.

What recent news stories have hit you close to home?

A Life-Long Friendship Now Forgotten


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My mother and friends

My mother and friends

I’ve posted pictures of my mother as a child (see here and here) and others of her as a young woman before I knew her (see here and here). Some stories behind the pictures I know. And others I wish I knew.

Mostly, I wish I’d known my mother better. What was she like as a little girl? As an adolescent? As a college student and a young woman in love?

Many of us wish we knew more about our parents. Maybe we admire them and hope to be more like them. Maybe we need to understand why they treat us as they do by learning how they were treated as children themselves. Maybe we want to see historical or family events through their eyes.

Part of the reason I write this blog is to save for posterity the memories I have of childhood and parenthood—how I thought and felt at various moments in my life. I don’t know if posterity will ever care, but it comforts me to know there is a record in cyberspace of my existence, that some of my stories are being preserved in my own words.

My father’s eulogy of my mother at her funeral focused on three things that were important to her—her family, her faith, and her friends. She was, of course, more than these, but as I have reflected over the year since she died, these three aspects of her life are critical to understanding her personality.

I felt her love of family—at least, I felt her love for me, her daughter.

She raised all of her children in her faith, though I am the only one who practices it regularly today.

But I saw her only occasionally in her capacity as friend, and only after she was well-established in adulthood. I know very little of her friendships as a child and young woman (other than that she married her high school boyfriend).

So I love this zany picture of my mother and three of her friends in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where she grew up. It shows me things about her that I never experienced.

I recognize my mother—the one on the far left with the finger horns above her head. It’s hard to tell whose arms and legs are whose. Their clothes tell us it is summer. I’m guessing the girls are about thirteen or fourteen, which would mean the photo was taken in 1946 or ’47, but it could be a year or two either side of that. They all look devilish, carefree, and happy.

Who took the picture? And why? And what caused the others to put horns on my mother? That’s not a persona of hers I ever encountered.

I think this foursome became acquainted early in grade school and stayed close through high school. Then they went to different colleges (or didn’t all go to college—I don’t know their histories). They wrote each other Christmas cards and letters throughout their lives.

My father told me the names of the other girls, and also told me the four girls had silly nicknames for each other (“Binky” and such). But I have mostly forgotten both the real names and the nicknames. I certainly cannot place my vague recollections of names with the faces. So now I do not know who they are, nor what has become of the other three. Now that my parents are gone, our family’s knowledge of the story of these young women’s friendship is gone as well.

I wish I’d written down the story of these four friends when it was told to me. And I wish there were someone now whom I could ask to tell it to me again.

What do you wish you knew about your parents?

The Manhattan Project at Home


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Hanford Reach, photo from Wikimedia Commons

Hanford Reach, photo from Wikimedia Commons

I wrote a couple of months ago about how the Manhattan Project preserved the natural beauty of the Columbia Reach in eastern Washington. In addition to preserving this unique part of our nation’s landscape, the Manhattan Project also enhanced the development of my home town of Richland, Washington.

2015 is the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan. These bombs were the result of work done in secret at Hanford and elsewhere. Numerous media articles this month have discussed the impact of nuclear bombs on Japan and on the U.S. Army. But work on the atomic bomb impacted civilian populations in the U.S. as well—at least there was a significant impact on my home community.

Mess Hall at the Hanford camp (photo from the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center exhibits)

Mess Hall at the Hanford camp (photo from the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center exhibits)

In January 1943, the Army selected the town of Hanford, Washington, as the site for plutonium production on the Manhattan Project. The criteria for the selection focused on the isolation of the area and the ready availability of water and electricity. The desert of Eastern Washington provided the isolation. The Columbia River that flowed through that desert and the hydroelectric dams on the river provided the necessary water and electricity.

Records set at Hanford (from the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center display)

Records set at Hanford (from the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center display)

Beginning in February 1943, the Army acquired vast amounts of land under the Second War Powers Act. The three hundred residents of Hanford were relocated, and the land became the Hanford Engineering Works.

The Hanford Engineering Works started as a tent camp, then barracks were built, and then the amenities of a town, including the largest general delivery post office anywhere in the world. By 1944, over 50,000 people lived at Hanford. It was the fourth largest city in Washington State and the largest voting precinct anywhere in the United States that year.

And it had been built from nothing in less than two years

The nearby town of Richland was incorporated in 1910, but it remained a small backwater until 1943. That year, Richland was tapped to replace the Army barracks and to become the bedroom community for Hanford. The Army hired Gus Pehrson, a noted Spokane architect, to construct a town for 5,700 people (later increased to 16,000). The town needed houses, utilities, retail, services—anything and everything. Pehrson had 75 days to do it. But it only needed to last for five years.

Pehrson's B house

Pehrson’s B house

Pehrson’s buildings lasted for far more than five years. In the late 1950s, my family lived in a duplex designed and built by Pehrson. In 2015—seventy-two years later—many of Pehrson’s houses are still occupied.

Richland, which had had only 300 people in the summer of 1943, boasted 25,000 by August 1945. After the war, in 1946, the Hanford residential camp was demolished, but the town of Richland continued to grow. Its fortunes ebbed and flowed first with the development of nuclear power and weapons (and the research to support both), and then with the clean-up of the Hanford area.

My brother and me outside one of Pehrson's houses (April 1959)

My brother and me outside one of Pehrson’s houses (April 1959)

Without the Manhattan Project, Richland would be a very different community than it is today, and I would be a different person than I am. The nuclear industry provided my father a long and successful career. Pehrson’s design provided my family with the first home I remember. I was told that Richland had the highest per capita percentage of Ph.D. engineers of any town in the world—and many of those engineers’ well-educated wives were my teachers.

Richland is my home town, and I probably would think of it fondly no matter what. Still, it was a better place to grow up than it could have been, because of the Manhattan Project.

How has a world event affected your life? Was the impact for better or for worse?

Which Is More Awesome—Mount Rainier or the Blue Angels?


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After the Cannon Beach portion of my recent trip west, my husband and I spent a few days in Seattle with our daughter. For these days also we had lovely weather, and Mount Rainier appeared on the horizon most days.

Mt. Rainier, seen above I-5

Mt. Rainier, seen above I-5

I always marvel at this mountain, which looms thousands of feet above anything around it. Several peaks in the Cascades are over 10,000 feet, but Mount Rainier stands alone in lofty splendor at 14,400 feet. It is easy to see why Native Americans worshiped the mountain, which has a certain godliness about it. Like an old grandfather, it casts a benevolent smile over much of Washington State and some of Oregon.

The Native Americans called the mountain “Tacoma”, which means either “mother of waters” or “larger than Mount Baker” in the language of the nearby Puyallap people. (Reading those two definitions in Wikipedia made me laugh—”mother of waters” is such a nurturing image, whereas “larger than Mount Baker” bespeaks a certain competitiveness with the northern tribes near that peak.)

Another bit of trivia: For the 2014 Super Bowl weekend, the Washington State Senate temporarily named the mountain Mount Seattle Seahawks.

This year I have made many trips to Washington State to deal with my parents’ estates. On each trip, I have been blessed to see Mount Rainier. This doesn’t always happen, as the Seattle weather frequently obscures the mountain, and I only see it during take-off and landing at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. But when it is visible, Mount Rainier always seems to welcome me back to my home state. This year, it seemed to convey my parents’ continuing presence as well.

What impressed me most during my trip last month was the juxtaposition of the mountain with several technological wonders. I saw Mount Rainier rise above Interstate 5 as we drove south one day. Cars hurtled along in five lanes of traffic at 70mph (faster than the speed limit), dodging each other as they maneuvered around curves and exits. Despite the fast-paced vehicles and the intricacies of modern highway design, the mountain’s grandeur impressed me more.

We saw Mount Rainier again on a boat tour of Lake Washington. “There’s Mount Rainier,” I told my husband as soon as we entered the lake. I pointed through the haze at the barely visible, but still majestic, presence.

Mount Rainier across Lake Washington -- you might not see it, but I can

Mount Rainier across Lake Washington — you might not see it, but I can.

Although I noticed it immediately, the tour guide didn’t comment on it until almost the end of our tour. He said he was a native Washingtonian, like me, but I had to wonder. I know about where it sits on the horizon, and I search for it whenever the sky opens up. Maybe because he has lived in the state his whole life, he no longer holds the mountain in awe. For me, an expatriate, it is a signal I am home.

Again, can you see Mount Rainier? I can

Again, can you see Mount Rainier at the seafair? I can.

F-22 (modern fighter) and P-51 Mustang (WWII era fighter)

F-22 (modern fighter) and P-51 Mustang (WWII era fighter)

Mount Rainier appeared yet again across Lake Washington during the Boeing Seafair air show. My husband, daughter and I sat on a hillside near Madrona Beach. The sky was hazy that day as well, but when I searched the horizon, there was my mountain.

We watched many planes that flew silhouetted against the mountain—including an Air Force F-22, a Marine Harrier, and a Marine C-130 “Fat Albert”—all lead-ups to the Navy’s Blue Angels. The show highlighted our nation’s aviation progress from World War II to the present.

C130 . . . No, it's not caught in the wires.

C130 (Fat Albert) . . . No, it’s not caught in the wires.

Blue Angels begin their dive

Blue Angels begin their dive

Finally the Blue Angels appeared. Their choreography was awesomely beautiful and incredibly precise. The pilots guide their missiles across the sky with just inches keeping them from disaster.

“Only the lead pilot is watching where they’re going,” my husband told me. “The others watch the lead plane. It’s the only way to keep from hitting each other.” He’s an afficionado of all things military, so I believed him.

Blue Angels dive again

Blue Angels dive again

We watched the Blue Angels perform their stunts. They shot vertically toward the sun, then fell over in symmetrical spirals. They streaked across the sky straight at each other, veering away at the last moment. Behind it all stood Mount Rainier, its ghostly presence reminding me that the planes are far more temporary on this planet than the mountain. The mountain will remain when all the pilots and all the spectators are gone.

Unless, of course, the volcano blows, as Mount St. Helens did in 1980.

When have you been impressed by a natural or technological wonder?

Cannon Beach, Oregon: Then and Now


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Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR, from our hotel room in the morning

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR, from our hotel room in the morning

My 12th birthday

My 12th birthday

I was fortunate to spend several days at Cannon Beach, Oregon, in late July. We stayed at a resort just north of Haystack Rock, right on the beach, and the weather was perfect—mid-70s, and lots of sunshine. I can’t say I got my fill of walks on the beach (see here and here), but I did enjoy what time I had.

I’ve been to Cannon Beach several times, starting with my twelfth birthday in 1968—more than forty years ago. I also spent my fifteenth birthday there. But those occasions were in April, and it wasn’t very warm. As you can see, my family was all bundled up for this picture taken on the beach in 1968. My grandmother was the only one brave enough to swim in the Pacific Ocean—and even she didn’t swim in April.

My family at Cannon Beach, 1968

My family at Cannon Beach, 1968 — I’m peeking out in the middle, between the two little kids

This year, it was warm enough for s’mores on the beach one evening, with a full moon rising behind the shoreline. During the week, both kids and adults waded, and several of our party not me) surfed and paddleboarded.

My son (with beer, not s'mores) on the beach, with the full moon rising

My son (with beer, not s’mores . . . though he partook of those, too) on the beach, with the full moon rising

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR, from our hotel room in the evening

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR, from our hotel room in the evening

The last time I was in Cannon Beach was in 1997. On that trip, we stayed in Seaside, Oregon, the town north of Cannon Beach. It was a family reunion with my parents and my sister and her family. That trip, we had people from two to sixty-four, and my kids were fifteen and twelve (my daughter was the same age I had been on my first trip to Cannon Beach).

This trip was a family reunion on my husband’s side of the family. We had people from two to eighty-seven. My husband and I and our children were the only repeats from the 1997 trip. Our kids are now in their thirties. My husband is now older than my parents were on the 1997 trip.

Funny, how time flies.

In 1968, there were no restrictions on exploring the tide pools at the base of Haystack Rock. My siblings and I waded and climbed as much as we wanted to (until one of us fell in and got too cold to stay any longer). We oohed and aahed at the starfish and sea anenomes, and captured hermit crabs in buckets to take back to our beach house.

Now, Haystack Rock is off limits beyond a certain point, protected for the sea birds by the federal Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also prohibits the taking of any plants or animals (including hermit crabs) from the site.

You might have noticed we had my grandmother’s poodle Mimi with us in 1968. Mimi was a purebred miniature poodle, always impeccably groomed.

Poor Langley on the beach

Poor Langley on the beach

This year, we had my daughter’s dog Langley. Langley is a mutt, and was recuperating from a lacerated ear suffered during an overly exuberant meeting with another dog. All Langley wanted was to hide in the shade. She was quite ashamed of her head wraps, plus the sedatives required to keep her from rubbing it off kept her groggy. She did not like the hot sand, though perked up some when we walked her on the damp beach.

I am pleased to report that shortly after her return home, Langley’s ear improved, and she is now back to her handsome self.

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When have you returned to a site after many years, only to find it changed—for better or for worse?

Stories I Couldn’t Tell Before: I Don’t Know How You Do It

My last post was a story I couldn’t tell until after my parents were gone—about how my father told me to get a “nice part-time job” when I complained of the difficulty of managing both a full-time job and two small kids. The other half of the story is what my mother said.

My mother in the "I don't know how you do it" era

My mother in the “I don’t know how you do it” era

As I’ve written before, my mother was a stay-at-home mom all the years I was growing up. Her years as a school librarian didn’t begin until I was long gone from my parents’ house, although my younger brother and sister were still at home when she worked. At my father’s insistence, my mother never got paid for her librarian work in the Catholic school where my siblings went to school, which clearly cemented her job as secondary in our family.

In contrast to my mother, I worked 50+ hours/week in the corporate world throughout the years my kids were at home. I got paid well, but it was a demanding role. My husband’s job took an equal amount of time. He was also an officer in the Naval Reserves until 2001, which took many of his evening and weekend hours.


A Cub Scout float

Somehow, my husband and I also fit in all our kids’ activities, such as school programs, basketball and volleyball, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, piano lessons, swimming lessons, and the odd assortment of birthday parties. We made costumes and floats, and attended science fairs and school plays and ball games. One year it was T-ball, and a later year we had football.

Dyeing Easter eggs

Dyeing Easter eggs

We celebrated and decorated for holidays, though never to my daughter’s satisfaction. We read out loud to our children most evenings until well after they could read themselves.

A costume for something

A mask for some activity

I had a rule that each child could only participate in one sport per season, but that was about the only limitation I imposed. (My daughter still blames me for not letting her play soccer in addition to basketball. Who knows? Maybe she would have played in the World Cup this year.)

We didn’t have more or less on our plates than other couples we knew, but it was still a frantic time.

My mother’s reaction to hearing about my life when my kids were little was to say “I don’t know how you do it.” Every time we talked, as I described what my family was doing, which kid was going where, and what my husband and I had on our work and home schedules for the week ahead, she would say, “I don’t know how you do it.”

Reading to my son

Reading to my son

As I said in the earlier post, a lot of what kept me going was stubbornness. That, and just doing what came next—whatever was most pressing at the moment—whether it be writing a legal brief or getting a kid to basketball practice. There wasn’t a whole lot of thought that went into how I did it. I was too busy doing it.

But I still wanted to whine. Particularly to my mother.

Reading to my daughter

Reading to my daughter

We all want someone who acknowledges how hard life is. Isn’t that what mothers are for, even when we’re grown? I thought it was. I wanted someone who had raised kids already to listen to me complain. Someone who would pat me on the head for doing such a good job under very trying circumstances. Someone who thought it was all right to cry about it once in a while.

When my mother told me, as she seemed to every week, “I don’t know how you do it,” she cut off my whining.

What I wanted to tell her was “I’m not doing it well at all. One kid went to school sick on Thursday, and the other forgot to do homework. Nobody is getting to bed on time, and I’m late turning in a position statement that was due last week.”

But if I said that, what could she do about it? She didn’t want to hear that I was having a tough time raising her grandchildren and that there were days when I didn’t think I was handling my job very well either.

So her comment cut off my truthfulness—that working in a professional job while raising kids is really difficult, that there is never time to do anything as completely as you want, and that most of the time is spent worrying about the next task rather than enjoying life in the moment. I could never tell her the truth, and had to make light of my challenges.

The problems I faced are probably true of every life. Most of us are never satisfied with how we are doing. We strive for more, to have more time both for leisure and for work, to wring every iota of productivity and pleasure out of every minute. And we never succeed.

We don’t know how we do what we do, let alone know how to do more.

So now, when my children come to me whining about their lives or seeking advice on how to handle work or social or other issues, the two things I never say are (1) go get a nice part-time job, and (2) I don’t know how you do it.

Because they won’t settle for a nice part-time job. And I know how they do it. They do it the same way I did—they grit their teeth and do the next thing. Moment by moment. They don’t always do it right, but they do the best they can. That’s how I raised them.

When have you felt cut off in your ability to discuss a problem you had with someone you trusted?

Stories I Couldn’t Tell Before: A Nice Part-Time Job

I told one story recently that I couldn’t tell until after my parents were gone. Here is another:

Two kids are much harder than one, even when they're cute

Two kids are much harder than one, even when they’re cute

I’ve described before how my mother was a stay-at-home mom. I, by contrast, worked as an attorney when my kids were little. It wasn’t too difficult with just one child, but the years right after my second child was born was one of the roughest of my life. I didn’t like the cases I was working on—they teemed with corporate politics and antagonistic opponents. It was far harder than I had anticipated to have two children instead of one. (Think about it—the ratio of one child to two parents is far better than the ratio of two children to two parents.)

There were many nights that year when I left work choking back sobs. Late one afternoon in the summer of 1986, I found myself escaping into a back corner of the law library to shed a few tears after my boss assigned me to another major lawsuit, when I already was handling one big case and a couple dozen smaller ones. I thought seriously about quitting my job. How could I manage any more than I had on my plate already?

In a conversation with my parents a week or two later, I bemoaned the fact that I had too much to do at work. I wanted a little sympathy from them, and I wanted some coaching from my father. He had always been a workaholic—at the office before dawn many mornings, traveling on business a lot through my school years, focused on his job while my mother focused on the house. Surely he would have some good advice on what to do.

“What you need,” my father said, “is a nice part-time job.”

This from the man who paid for my law school education!

Dad in the "nice part-time job" era

Dad in the “nice part-time job” era

I don’t know what I was expecting from him—maybe some ideas about how to prioritize assignments, or how to work more efficiently, or even how to push back on my unreasonable boss. I was not expecting my father to tell me to back away from work. He had drilled it into me throughout my college and law school years that after I graduated I would be responsible for myself. And now he wanted me to leave the career that would allow me to do that?

I knew darn well that no one where I worked—including myself— thought the job I had could be done on a part-time basis. There were part-time lawyer jobs, even in the mid-1980s, but I would have to find one elsewhere, and it wouldn’t offer the same intellectual satisfaction as the job I had.

And raising two kids is messy

And raising two kids is messy

And, damn it, no one was telling my husband he should find a nice part-time job. The kids were his as much as mine. It wasn’t fair that I should be the one to cede my career progress.

So I stuck to my guns, and my job, out of pique more than wisdom. I worked for another ten years in that job—continuing my 50-plus hours/week schedule—and then another ten years in other departments in the same company.

I never told my father his comment made me mad or that it provoked the stubbornness that kept me at my decidedly not part-time job. Somehow, my kids and marriage survived, as did I.

When has stubbornness kept you going?


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