The Lost/Last Month (pt 2)

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Ready for a mini photo album? In this and the next post, I am going to be sharing a smattering of the thousand pictures we (and other family members) took during our various epic escapades last month. Today, I’m going to … Continue reading

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The Lost/Last Month (pt 1)

UpcloseI found myself outside in the garden at 9:27pm with the sunlight still clinging to the sky. The hot, dry earth was like crumbly stone and the going was slow. The weeds clung to everything, forming a well-woven chaos. Squatted over the garden bed, I chiseled and yanked and swore.

At one point, I looked up at the house — you know, “Gus” — and there were only a couple of lights on inside; most notable among them was the steely glint of the LED on the phone Natalie uses, illuminating the book she was reading while waiting for Echo (eye-mask-clad and snuggled up in bed next to her) to fall asleep. I didn’t have a kid or kids to usher toward bed. I didn’t have anyone to read to or tuck in or snuggle up. Suddenly, “the Summer” had come and gone. Bella’s 8 weeks zoomed by, and now both she and Xi were off to their other houses. And I was by myself in the yard at twilight.

Upclose3For 8 weeks we’ve been in bliss.  For 8 weeks we’ve been our whole family unit, undivided by time and distance and circumstance. For 8 weeks we just were. And over the last month in particular, the rest of the world faded finally, completely out of focus, and even things as close as the front yard softened into happy blurs. We had more family come and visit. We camped. We played. We celebrated. We rivered. We went to the lake. We went to the mountains. We went to the shore. We went to weddings. We did it all. We had the very best summer of our lives and it was all before August even started!

As a result, almost as soon as Xi got picked up and I dropped Bella off and returned to a thinner, more solemn Gus; almost as soon as the last soft edges of Bella and Xi faded out of sight (but not mind), the rest of the world came careening back into focus in glaring, wanting, necessary detail. I grew a list like a magic beanstalk. And at or near the top of the list was my other baby, our yard… For those of you who don’t know, we have more of a Rocky Mountain English Garden than a lawn.Upclose5 Upclose6 Upclose7 There are nooks and crannies of amazing life out there that I track all summer long each year just to find again in order to nurture them onward. So I ventured outside with my mind on microscope mode in order to fine-tooth-comb through some particular areas and tame back some unruly intruders.

Upclose4Twenty-four hours later, it is 9:27pm, and the sunlight is clinging to the sky and I am hunched over face-to-face with the dirt and the weeds. Out of those 24 hours, I spent 6 of them sleeping, 2 of them eating, and the rest in perforated chunks somewhere in this jungle maze, eye-ball deep in plants.

I watched a fly with something egg-like hanging from it’s back end struggle to take off, as though trying to scrape off the egg-thing, only to discover that the egg was an ant, struggling to hold the fly down. I huffed in mirth and blew the dueling duet into the air where the ant rode the back of the fly like Bellerophon on Pegasus. Then, presumably because of the increased weight (of an ant!), the fly crashed down again, where the ant promptly grabbed hold of the nearest hunk of earth and prevented the fly from leaving the ground once more. Then another tiny gust launched them briefly skyward over the canopy of weeds again, and back down at last, at which point, the ant gave up and stalked dizzily off.

Upclose2Other things I’d been “missing” came into focus as well. My list grew even more, as I worked to trim it back. In between moments when I hunched and toiled and swore, I breathed deep and slow and long. I settled back into a version of myself I hadn’t been wearing much at all lately. I’d been so carried away with being my (much preferred) fully-familial self, that I found all this unused me hanging around all over the place. I kept getting in my way, and tangling myself up, a well-un-woven chaos.

I’ve been doing this co-parenting thing for something like 12 years now. I know what it’s like to be in “full family mode” and then shift back to “work mode” or “single adult mode” or, as it’s been in recent years, “single kid family mode”. And I’ve become good at diving in and getting as much out of my time with my girls as I possibly can. It’s gotten a little more poignant with Bella over the last few years, now that we only see her during Winter break from school and those 8 weeks of Summer. Now when she comes, we really go all out — much in the same vein as it’s always been with Bella’s time, but now on steroids… So in the vacuum of her departure, especially since it coincided with Xi leaving on the same day, I feel unnerved, unsettled, unkempt, stalking dizzily around my to-do list.

Upclose8I’m getting there. Things are continuing to come back into focus. The light isn’t quite so stark, but the clarity is still rich. I went back to Facebook today and had something like 64 notifications… I see things I want to get to. I see people I’m eager to connect with. I even see you — friends, family, and other blog followers — and am typing away at these weeds grown up between us.  I’ve got several new missions — some of which you will no doubt be hearing more about quite soon…! — and I’m ready to take things to a new level.

I’ve been to the mountain, but now, I’m back.

Stay tuned… Next up, I’ll be posting some photos from our recent adventures!


Be well.

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Aaannd We’re Off…

Summer is officially a full-go around here — both in calendrical terms (Happy Solstice, All!) and in the sense that we are all settling nicely into our favorite seasonal routines.

SKO1We got our Bella back. And our Xi, too, for that matter. Since we returned from our time in Santa Cruz, we’ve only been with Xi for a few overnights (as part of the schedule balancing-act we arranged so that she could come with us for part of the Santa Cruz time and be with us for more of Bella’s Summer time); and we haven’t seen Bella (other than our skype dates) since the Winter holidays. #holycoparentingjugglebatman…

Scenes like these always make me sigh. When all three of our girls are with us, it’s like home is more home; family is more family. Where I am and what I am doing in the universe makes more sense. The world is friendlier, fuller of promise, and made of fresher atoms. And when the days yawn out before us, and we have no concern for how soon Bella has to be back, or how to make the days count double — then there’s no doubt that Summer is on.
SKO3 Another sure sign of Summer in our house is the parade of Grandparents! This year, Grandpop Michael kicked off the celebrations, showing up just a couple days after Bella and Xi. We wasted no time getting him to his favorite spot in Missoula — Big Dipper Ice Cream.SKO8And, in fact, we made sure he got back there at least once, every single day for the week that he was with us. We got split single scoops each time. He got 5 or 6. SKO2Oh yeah, and Bella is 13… See… ^^^

Grandpop, on the other hand, is still only 12…
SKO4Nevertheless, in between delivering his nearly constant supply of jokes, and impromptu wrestling bouts with the girls, he also rebuilt our renter-injured door frame, repaired both our incomplete and ornery gate latches and our sprained garage door, took us to our first roller derby, lavished the girls with clothes, and took us to about a dozen of our favorite local restaurants, among other silly adventures. Our last stop on the way to return Grandpop to the airport — not Big Dipper (as one would do well to expect), but the ranch supply store for some good old fashioned Montana cowboy boots… Now that’s how you finish off a Summer trip to Big Sky Country!

Also as part of our Summer kick-off, we undertook a wonderful science project the last few weeks which culminated over the last few days in the release of 5 new Pink Lady Butterflies into our neighborhood ecosystem. We’ve been researching pollinators a fair amount lately, studying the habits of the several species of bees that we have in our yard and planting bee-friendly flowers for them, and the butterfly project fit perfectly within that subject area. We got this kit, partly pictured below, that came with everything but the caterpillars, which we ordered separately and were sent to us in a little sealed plastic cup with some special food for them. We watched them munch and wriggle and crawl around the cup for about a week until one by one, and almost instantaneously, they affixed themselves to the paper lining on the lid-ceiling of the cup in snug translucent chrysalids. Even after zipping up their transformation (not sleeping) bags, they would occasionally give an odd swaying jiggle, as if they were really 5 tiny Houdinis slipping out of their caterpillar straightjackets while hanging upside-down in burlap sacks. And then, miraculously, each to their own impressive and triumphant musical score, they suddenly emerged unscathed from their daring reinventions. Then after allowing their wings to “harden”, we set them free in our garden and marveled as they hit the wind like skilled flapping hang-gliders and soared over our heads and into their own Summer epics.SKO5And speaking of “our garden”… here’s the flash version of what’s been up out there:
SKO6Currently the peonies have full reign of the yard, but the columbines, irises, poppies, and fruit blossoms (cherry, apple, strawberry, and raspberry) were no less impressive.

Also “out in the garden” we now have 5 teen chicks just settling in to their new digs in the enclosed run and newly remodeled coop. SKO7Natalie, who fashioned the last coop out of an old garden hot-box made of even older windows, took the previous model and stood it up on one end and reoriented everything so that now it’s warmer, has more room for the chickens to roost and has an additional nesting area.  SKO10Instead of a ranch-styled home, these fancy ladies get to live in a high-rise condo.
SKO9This week is a bit of a “lull” between major events, more exciting escapades, and another round of grandparenting — Bella is in theatre camp all day, Xi is having a week with her mom, and Echo is making audio-files of her current game narration(s). And Natalie and I are bobbing and weaving between work projects, gardening, and play. In a word, we’re all gleefully Summering!

I hope you’re all finding your seasonal sweet spots too!


Be well.


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Birthday Season!

Well, we did Echo’s birthday a couple weeks ago. This week we did our boy Henry’s (that’s him in yellow fur below), followed immediately by Natalie and Nana’s birthdays as well.Bdays1Henry got a rambling hike up one of our local hills, called Mount Jumbo. Bdays2It was punctuated by many a pause from his peskily meandering, story-telling, sniff-stalling humans. Bdays3Echo played Matriarch Elephant leading her family across the savannah… Bdays5which in human-hiking-the-dog terms meant she was mostly wandering off. That big L was our destination. See…

Bdays7 Aside from his hike, we also trained Henry in the course of that one day to get ready for a treat any time we said, “Happy Birthday Henry!” or even just “Birthday, Henry!”. Thus proving, this (12-year!) old dog can still pick up a new trick or two.Bdays6


A few days later, Natalie’s birthday hike was an almost totally different Montana experience. Natalie and Nana share their birthday, so after a call to Nana and Grandpa George that morning, and waiting for Xi to arrive at noon — we set off a little over an hour north of Missoula to a place outside Seeley Lake, MT called Morrell Falls. Bdays16We wound our way through a few miles of Lodgepole Pine, Douglas Fir, and Tamarack groves, all littered with a criss-crossing lattice of old fallen trees and limbs, and bejeweled with ripe humps of nearly blooming Bear Grass.

Echo wore her adventure vest. Bdays10 The Lodgepoles were so — Lodgepoley.Bdays14 At one point the trail sidled up to the river, Morrell Creek, which was racing us to another more spectacular meeting spot up ahead.Bdays11 We crossed at this lovely little bridge, but not before being hypnotized by that smooth, clear water sliding over the mosaic of stones in the creekbed.Bdays12 A little further on, we met back up with Morrell where she leapt and tumbled 90 feet only pausing part-way down just long enough to carve a deep bathing bowl for giants, and roaring so loudly that the sound was carried a full half mile.Bdays13 We all gazed and gaped at the falls, but not in the picture below…Bdays17In that one, we’re gaping at one of the many lovely lakes we passed on the way to the falls and back — this one (below) as a matter of fact. Bdays18All four of us, though pretty well worn out by the end of it, felt like we’d each gotten something fun out of Natalie’s birthday tromp. Bdays15We changed clothes in the parking lot and drove straight back to one of our favorite restaurants in Missoula for some much deserved birthday dinner. We all went to bed early, pretty well stuffed with birthday bliss.

Tomorrow our Bella comes. And Summer goes into high gear. What a lovely time… And what lovely use we’re getting to make of that time. I love these bright adventurers. I love the way(s) we live, and love “our chothers” (as Echo used to say while learning to say “each other”).


Be well.

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How Did Our Baby get to be 7?!

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Somehow, unbeknownst to me, and although I’ve been here, watching, the entire time, several years have flown by and now our youngest — the teeny, tiny baby — has turned 7! Not unlike the little lump of baby chick roosting on the hollow of Echo’s solar plexus (which … Continue reading

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Co-Operation Beats Compliance Every Time

deaf“How many times do I have to tell you?!” “When are you going to learn?” “If you don’t listen to me…!”  If you’ve ever been around kids for more than a minute, you’ve likely heard some of their parents say at least something like these phrases. If you’ve been a parent longer than a couple years, you’ve likely said one or more of them yourself. At the very least, almost all of us have had similar lines lobbed at us from time to time by our own parents when we were growing up.

The fact is, much like Bill Cosby’s old routine on the subject, we parents often find ourselves repeating what we say in a barrage of stuttered phrases, “like a tobacco-auctioneer”: “Come here. Come here. Come’ere. C’mere. C’mere. Here! Here! HERE!” or “No. No. Nonononono! NO!” or “Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Stoppit. Stoppit. STOPPIT!”. It’s not uncommon. It’s easy to slip into. And part of it is the nature of being the only (supposedly…) rational, full-brained person in the room. But the other fact is, it’s easy to get carried away thinking that our little ones need us to act that way in order to get them to comply with, or even hear, our requests, and “behave!”.

Biologically speaking, our kids are designed to follow our lead. Period. If we don’t screw that up by being too demanding all the time, too inflexible, too authoritarian, too retributive, too exacting, or too permissive (which is actually rarer than we’re taught to think…) — then our kids grow into adolescence trusting our leadership, relying on our authority, and doing (mostly) as we’d prefer. Yes, if we’ve raised them right, they’ll learn to question authority along the way, and we’d do well to entertain those questions in more than a perfunctory manner; but by and large, even when they have questions, they’re still respecting whose role is whose, they’re still looking to our leadership, and they’re still more geared toward following us than not. All we have to do is honour our own roles as leaders by being informative guides, confident captains, and loving parents. I’ve written some on all of those topics before (see the links), but today I want to spend a little more time on the last piece — leadership through love.

The truth is, almost every kid is by nature more compliant than almost every adult (read that again if you need to); it’s just that we’ve been taught to expect them to do every-single-thing-we-ever-say — and that’s not reasonable, no one will ever live up to such a ridiculous ideal, not without losing their own identity anyway… So we have this skewed notion of what’s normal for children — what signifies normal cooperation, and conformity (what we all call “compliance”) — and we expect way more of it from them than makes sense. Even so, expecting that our kids will follow our lead is waaay more productive for everyone involved than assuming the opposite. Mostly, this is because kids rise to meet our expectations of them. If we treat them like convicts, they act like convicts. If we treat them as cooperative, rookie members of our family team, and expect that most of the time, they’ll “eventually get it” (if they don’t already), then 8 times out of 10, that’s what we’ll see.

The single best way to increase cooperation (both, ahead of the game and in the moment) is to turn up the connection. Because they’re born to follow us, and because they’re by nature more likely to do what we say than anyone else ever would be; the only thing we really need to do to get more of that (aside from not screwing it up!) is lean into the natural bond we already share, and that our biology has tuned to perfection for just such a purpose, and let the relationship do it’s magic. By connecting with them, we prove their significance to us, we show them that they belong with us, and both the neurobiology and the psychology of that connection are so compelling that they almost can’t not do what we ask. And all it takes is spending a little time, giving out some hugs, maybe doing a bit of playing, reading, and wrestling — and voila – you’re connecting!


The bottom line, for the moment is, if your kid isn’t listening to you — I mean really not listening to what you say or request or expect — instead of checking the behavior, maybe  check in with the relationship. Look for ways to communicate significance and belonging to your child, and practice making time and space to connect. Take him on a date just the two of you — his choice. Take her to the park and play together — her lead. Take ten minutes and just snuggle on the couch — and try to be the last one to let go. Leave love notes (even if they’re just crappy pictures). Give free kisses. Hold hands. Smile freely. In a word — relate!

I promise you, it is surprising how much easier it is to get cooperation from a deeply-connected kid. And when we get practiced at throwing our own cooperation into the mix, too (for modeling and bonding purposes, at least!) — well, the difference is hard to believe. In fact, I’m personally convinced (by my own 13, 10, and almost 7 year old) that if we get really skilled at co-operating with them (i.e. using our natural leadership, connecting, and working with them to find mutually satisfying solutions to issues as they arise) then we no longer need to worry about enforcing compliance or insuring conformity. When we’re working together to meet needs, be empathetic to feelings, and get things done — we’re working together! We don’t have to demand compliance, because we’re working together. We don’t have to punish them for noncompliance in order to instill obedience, because we’re working together. We don’t have to do anything to them to make them do what we say, because we’re working together.

If we’re not working together with our kids to get everyone’s needs met — that is, co-operating — well, then we’re working too hard. And that’s all there is to it. If we want more cooperation from them, then what we need to do is give more of it to them. If we want them to care about us enough to do what we ask even when they’d rather not, then we have to show them how much we care about them. It’s a direct proportion and a turn key operation. And if you aren’t already — it’s high time you and your family started cashing in!


To get you started and/or keep you going, here’s some “working with” phrases you can try out that engender an atmosphere of and invite co-operation:

• “It seems like, right now, you are wanting X, and I am wanting Y. How can we make it  work for both of us?”
• “I’d like to help, can you tell me what you need?”
• “I’d like your help with something real quick.” and/or “Can you help me for a minute?”
• “How can we make it a game?” or “What’s the fun version?!”
• “We have to go in the next 10 minutes. Is there anything you want to do before we leave?” then “We’re going to be leaving in about 2 more minutes. Any ‘last things’ you need to do or get?”.
• “I was thinking I’d like to ______ before we leave the park/playground/exploratorium today. What’s one thing you want to do before we leave? Which do you want to do first?”
• “What’s the funnest/#1-super-secret/safest way to get to the car from here? Go!”
• “Since we have to interrupt your game, what part of this do you want to bring with us?”
• “What do you want/need before we _______ ?” or just “What do you need?”
• “How do you want to handle that/this?”
• “What can we do about _________?”
• “What’s your idea…” or “Do you have any ideas for…”
• “Well, we’re in this together. What’s our plan?”
• “This (situation, scenario, dynamic, interaction, etc.) isn’t working for me. Can we/ I’d like to/ I’d prefer we/ Let’s try/ What if we…”
• “That wasn’t what we agreed…/ That wasn’t what I asked for… Do you need more information/time/hugs?”
•”I’d like us to follow-through on what we discussed.” or “I think we should do as we agreed.”
•”We still have to _______ . How can we/I make it easier for you/us?”
• “Will you help me figure out what to do here?”
• “I’m willing to _______ . What are you willing to do?”
• “We can’t ________ . Do you have any other ideas?”
• “Honey, will you please bring me that ______ ?”
• “Will you/everyone please ______ ?”
• “Can we/we all agree to _______ ?”
• “What’s your vote?”
• “What would help?”
• “Do you have a preference?”
• “My favorite way is to… What’s your favorite way?” then if necessary, “Which one sounds more fun/better/easier to you right now?”
• “We have to _______ . What part do you want to pick/choose/make-up/design?”
• Or (no matter the topic) use singing, “We gotta ______ right now. Or I’m gonna have a cow! We gotta do it right away. Or I’ll have to buy some haa-aay!”
• And, of course, don’t forget the NVC classic, which, being a classic, is always in style — “I’m feeling ________ . I need _________ . Will you  ______?”


If you want (or desperately need!) help turning your current family dynamic around to a more connected, co-operative version — don’t hesitate to reach out. No matter where you are, or what style of parenting you’ve been using up to now, we can get you on a better feeling course faster than you’d believe possible. Contact me and let’s set up a complimentary strategy session to discuss your situation right away.


Be well.

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Villanueva Rocks (and flowers, and sticks, and cliffs, oh my!)

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When we last left our heroes, they had just arrived at the family farm in Villanueva, New Mexico. The view above is from the house across the currently fallow (though gorgeous, teeming) field. And the view below is from the opposite … Continue reading

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