driveway picnic

My kids had this big idea. We would picnic in the truck bed in our driveway.

Despite their charm and conviction, it didn’t sound appealing. We said you guys can eat out there, we will eat on the deck.

They ran back and forth from bedroom to driveway with blankets and pillows and dolls. Their trail a wildfire of mess and excitement.

Of course their flames caught us. Of course we would all eat in the truck. In the sawdust, compost and puddles.

Our neighbor turned six today. His grandma gave him a remote controlled car. It’s held court in our hood all day, that car. It is the subject of negotiation and triumph, of compromise and defeat.

As we were dining in the truck in the driveway, the birthday boy and his sister neared and joined our party. We ate friend rice and talked about being six, cheered for successful car launches off of curbs.

Just before they left, the birthday boy grabbed my phone and snapped a few photos.

retreated away form the mess, the piles, the lists
retreated toward our daughters’ earnest inclination
into the bed of a small, old pickup truck
last bits of late summer light
gray hair at my temples,
laugh lines mostly from my husband’s humor
bandaid on one bloodied knee
she learned to ride a bike earlier today
she took off and fell hard
took off again, blood like a creek down her shin bone
wait for me!
she usually waits for her sister
sometimes because I yell for her to wait for her sister
her little sister, the one she leans into
to make goofy faces behind their parents’ backs
in the truck bed, in the driveway on this night
her little sister, the one that makes her the most furious
the one she wants to spoon when she sleeps

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road trip, part 2: even little things can make great big giant shadows

>> click here to read part 1 <<

I am ready to write about all the things I haven’t made time to write about this summer. Growth of tomatillos and children, renovations of home and mental space, plans for this month and in ten years.

I haven’t been here on dig as much because I’ve been there — in the other important places in my life. I do feel nostalgic about this space as it once was, where I holed up late at night to write whatever stories flew out my fingertips every few days. And I do so thoroughly believe in the practice of making time to create without need of it becoming something. I tell my kids all the time to let go of making art that needs to be hung up. JUST MAKE. For this big need to have more unstructured, undeadlined writing, I plan to get back in here more regularly. I lost my time to contribute here for a few reasons:

  1. At my 36 years, I need more sleep. Two hours more per night. This has been a hard adjustment for me! But, oh, it’s very necessary.
  2. The impermanence of it all fills my brain with things to write about and forbids me from leaving the story I’m living so that I can write a story about it. That sounds convoluted but I think you get it.
  3. GEO is growing and requiring more of my attention.
  4. See next paragraph.

School started last week. Margot at public school, Ruby at home. At home! We, me particularly, have long been interested in homeschooling and am so eager for this adventure. Everyone is comfortable and enthused. It all feels great, which is a relief. I was so torn up about school last year at this time, spinning out over school options, wondering which was best for us. It took me a long period of fretting before it felt right.

Ruby and I biked to get Margot at school a few days ago and she captured Life’s Big Idea with this simple question:

Mama, did you notice that even little things can make great big giant shadows?

I feel hopeful and excited. I feel nervous and invested. I feel as capable as a parent who has never done any of this before can feel.

Before I move into news on the home front, the Blogger in me must finish up our family road trip! In the spirit of brevity (ha!) and simplicity, I deleted all my text and will let photos tell the story of the last five days of our adventure.

trip details:

Day 8:
Radke’s Blueberry Farm, Corvallis, OR: sweet family, sweetest blueberries, screamin’ deal affordable, recommended by my friend Camille.
Alsea Falls Campground: we stayed in site #5. Vault toilets, potable water, private sites.
Hike to Alsea Falls: easy, gorgeous
Trails up mountain over Alsea river: one of the best runs I’ve had in a while

Day 9:
Driftwood Beach, Waldport, OR
Lost Creek Beach, Newport, OR
South Beach State Park Campground: Like most seaside campgrounds, it was huge and packed in. We managed to score one of the last campsites available and it was one of the best! Site H20.
Local Ocean Seafoods, Newport, OR: fantastic. The service, the food. The laughing sea lions on the dock. I ordered the Halibut over soba noodles and chard.

Day 10:
Take out from Cha’ba Thai in Portland. Holy smokes the Pad Thai, Pad Sa Ewe and Masseman Curry were amazing.
Stumptown Coffee, of course

Day 11:
Lunch at Pfriem Brewing, Hood River, OR: wonderful veggie burgers and the IPA is out of this world
The Incredibles: the last day of driving was hard. Kids watched a movie in the car and this is a favorite of ours!
GuestHouse Hotel in Kellogg, Idaho: Unable to find camping, we grabbed a hotel. It was your average place (clean, comfy, basic) made pretty great by the lovely Jayne at the front desk.

Day 12:

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road trip, part 1: but where do people come from?

The air turned while we were away. Today, I am wearing jeans and yanking beets the size of my fist, leeks the length of Margot’s leg, cabbage the circumference of Ruby’s head. I have equal love for every season and because of this, I mourn walking away from summer (my baby-faced kindergartner, my quiet mama’s girl) while feeling just right walking toward fall (my freckle-faced first grader, my loud mama’s girl).

We packed for our trip backpacking-style, meaning the bare essentials, meticulously placed for ultimate space-saving. We each had only a few items of clothing, everything folded and tucked into camping bowls and stuff sacks. And then we cut it all in half. Miraculously, it all fit — camping gear, our personal stuff, big dog, four humans, food, water, bikes. Our rocket box was like Mary Poppin’s satchel, sometimes like those jokester cans that look like beans but open to exploding paper snakes in your face.

The day before our trip I diagnosed verticillium wilt on our 31 tomato plants. So, while Andy jengaed items into the car, I cooked sauce from the tomatoes I picked from the plants I pulled and threw away. It seems no matter how organized I am, no matter how hard I work and plan to leave at a certain time, I have an urgent homestead something to mix in with packing toiletries. This time, it was a heaping basket of ripe tomatoes.

On the first day we traveled southwest along the Lochsa River to Lewiston, Idaho. Through wildfire smoke so thick it mixed with our words. Based on a suggestion from an instagram friend, we found a campsite. We promptly hopped in the tent where we rocked with the wind and exclaimed at lightening’s strobe that sporadically illuminated our faces. The storm was fierce and strong and quickly turned into a regular ol’ downpour. The girls held some fear that was easily distracted by mama snuggles in the down sleeping bags with headlamps and books.

Margot began journaling on this day, using the new blank book and pen I’d surprised her with. What should I write? she asked. Write what you see, write what you know and don’t know. Right what you wonder about, I said.

This morning I wok op and I sa a prasint in my car.
Nao I am in my car.
Nao I se goldin matis.
Nao there is a bad storm.
Nao it is sloing dawn.

Soggy, we packed up and headed out the next day to Sunriver, Oregon to meet up with my family.

My dad’s father’s parents lived in the Bitterroot Valley, just south of where we live now. They had five children, my grandfather the oldest. I didn’t know much about this part of my family; my grandfather died suddenly when I was five. I remember he was funny, he smoked a pipe. He called me Nick The Rock. I remember my dad crying and shaving, cutting his chin with the razor as he prepared to fly out after receiving the shocking news of his dad’s heart attack. It was the first time I saw my dad cry.

I later learned of my grandfather’s service in the FBI. He was a Flying Tiger in WWII. He was a law professor at The University of Montana. His father had also died from a heart attack when he was young. His mother left for Oregon with her youngest when her eldest children were off to college/air force.

This reunion in Sunriver was for this part of my family. My mom initiated the whole thing with an email a little over a year ago, unsure of what might happen. Dozens of Holts showed up. I met my dad’s cousins, their kids and their kids. For five days we hung with family that immediately felt like family. Yes, family can have something to do with name, blood, proximity and shared past. But mostly, it has everything to do with humanity, history and the choice to know one another. We are all related.

^ wild hail storm left three inches on the ground ^

We had planned to head south from Sunriver to the Redwoods. Instead our little family unit drove toward the ocean. Andy and I thrive on unplanned, unbooked travel. We love the excitement of choosing small, less-traveled highways off of a wrinkled, non-talking, old fashioned map.

Always in search of primitive campsites, I read about a little spot on a lake near Sisters, Oregon. We drove the McKenzie Road through fields of lava rock and into an emerald lake with one campsite left. We set up camp, made dinner and envied the site across the way — the one tucked into the forest, right on the lake.

And, right then, as we were saying damn, that site is so awesome the people staying there packed up and left. You know it. We scooped up our piles, ran 100 yards and staked claim.

^ Alice buried brussels sprouts in super secret spots for her nighttime snacks ^

The girls spent more than an hour making a fairy house. And, two visited: Ponderosa Rose and Lava Feather. They are summer fairy who care for germinating pinecones and the homes of pikas in the lava fields.

Margot and Ruby were fascinated by the once-hot lava surrounding us. We hiked through it, read all about it and are now researching books and websites to answer Margot’s 117 questions about where the first people came from (but where do they COME from?), when the first dinosaur lived, how deep under the earth hot lava exists, where every volcano is in our country, how rock is dated…

>> trip details <<

Margot’s hiking shoes
Ruby’s hiking shoes
Travel espresso maker

DAY 1:
Lochsa River
Hells Gate State Park, Lewiston, Idaho: a nice, clean, friendly park with a little bit of highway traffic noise

DAY 2 – 6:
Sunriver, Oregon
Hike to Tumalo Falls: it was more crowded than I’m accustomed for hike but beautiful, shady and easy for the kids
Float on the Deschutes River
Thump Coffee

Day 7:
Lava Camp Lake Campground: free and beautiful and primitive
Lava River National Recreation Trail: educational and magical
McKenzie Pass scenic byway: gorgeous, forested, lush, tons of hiking trails

>> part 2 tomorrow <<


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Somewhere between Elsa and Katy Perry

My daughters watch themselves dance in the window reflection. Margot tucks her shirt in, untucks it. Sways her hips from side to side. Tucks it in again. Spins on one foot, her bejeweled plastic heels stomping the turn to a stop.

Mama, when I am 12 I want to fly all the way across the country all by myself with no mom or dad!

Ruby believes she invented the side ponytail. She spends at least 10 minutes smoothing every hair into this intention every morning. The hairstyle changes in one hour. By the end of the day it’s always down, a tangled mess of blond.

Mama, I feel so beautiful.

They visit my sewing studio in search of fabric for the day’s cape. They play kittens, babies, school, family, princesses and vacation. They carry purses full of treasures on their shoulders at all times. Rocks, coins, lip balm, carousel tokens, tiny stuffed sheep, tinkerbell, drawings.

Margot is 6 1/2. I remember wearing a 6x, remember my cat peachy folder, Mrs. Ryding, my mom’s soft brown locks. My girl is promising swirl of thoughtfulness, wisdom, confidence and gumption.

Ruby studies her sister, often torn by wanting to do what Margot does and wanting to do what she wants. She usually does what she wants. Ruby is a promising swirl of tenderness, earnestness, resilience and courage.

I really want my own room but I can’t even handle not sleeping with my sister. Ever.

Our entire family knows every word to every song on the disney pandora station. The girls feel like they win at life, many times a day, when Do You Want to Build a Snowman and Let it Go come on. Recently, the interest has shifted, especially with Margot. She now likes the Katy Perry station. Ruby prefers “princess music.” They talk it through and bounce back and forth until I call it quits and call on Gillian Welch.

You’re hot then you’re cold
You’re yes then you’re no
Do you want to build a snowman?
Or ride our bikes around the halls?
You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through

My daughters want to be together all the time. Even when they argue, pinch and hit — they sit with it. Sit with each other. I feel proud of this, proud of them. One of my primary parenting goals is to give my daughters each other. To support them in their authentic love and problem-solving; to give it to them instead of stepping in to manage. To hope for a strong relationship between them that outlives me. To show them what it’s like when someone always has your back. Inclusivity, empathy, compromise, listening, sharing — all these vital life skills are learned in my daughter’s shared bedroom and through their shared experiences.

(the story of the turtle we found in the road, in the middle of nowhere)

(the story of the toad at the river)

My husband and I are witnessing change that is both profound and ordinary, as our kids cut deeper into their channel of self-discovery and personal style, as they sort through this world. Andy and I swim beside them – in our own channels – sharing their light, sharing our light. Together, finding our way.

We leave tomorrow for one last summer hurrah – a 10 day road trip. After a very full few weeks of working to prepare for this time away, I cannot wait to get out and about, exploring. Our family is at its best when out there, I believe. Oh the glory of no cell service! The blessing of nothing to do but talk and play made-up games in the woods! The time to just be, somewhere between Elsa and Katy Perry, together.

weekend camp trip details:

first night (forested images): Lake Alva Campground
second night (river images): River Junction Campground
lost turtle: on the road to Upsata Lake
last photo, THE BAG: by Dharma Door, my new favorite everything tote. My friends own Dharma Door, a company that designs & sources Fair Trade, sustainable homewares and lifestyle products. You can have 15% off your order with coupon code DIGTHISCHICK.

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There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of Sister

Who hosts a big ol’ summer sale in her shop during the busiest season of the year the week before going out of town? This girl! (pictured with her children)

Getting out the door is my nemesis but also my gift. Meaning, it takes me hours longer than I ever think it will and I am a crazed, unorganized, last-minute packer. But! I always succeed at getting out the door. Just like I can always carry one more thing, I can always squeeze one more task in an hour. I can always accommodate one more dinner guest. I can always get shit done when prize of Leaving Town glistens on the horizon.

The day we left I woke at 5am. I went for a run, did all of our laundry, worked for a few hours, packed everything for a week of camping, planned meals and went grocery shopping and, by 3pm, my daughters and I were on the highway getting outta town. The house was unbelievably messy but I assured myself Andy would be bored and in need something to do while we were away. Or at the very least, proud of us for leaving at a reasonable hour and not forgetting anything.

We usually go to Lake Mary Ronan for a week with my family but this year my parents couldn’t make it and my husband couldn’t make it so I changed things up a bit. Margot, Ruby and I camped for a few days on our way. We chose Rainy Lake. I think this will be a new tradition every year before Lake Mary Ronan because oh, we loved this lake and campground.

On the first night, I prepared tofu curry and rice on our little cook stove. Something smelled funny, sounded funny. I went to turn the flame off and investigate and the dial just spun and spun, the flame burned. And then is morphed like a Dali painting. It was around this time that I screamed at the girls to run far away because I discovered the underneath of the stove was on fire and the knobs had melted to the casing. I was surprisingly calm as the flame shot out toward the propane canister. I decided to try blowing the fire out through a small opening on the side. It worked. We cooked dinner over fire instead.

I started a fire on my first try with one match. It was a very proud moment as I am not the fire starter in our family. My girls shared my enthusiasm remembering my failed attempts of summers yore. You’re as good as dada now! Ruby squealed. True. In fact I did it several more times by that lake, even with wet twigs and moss one morning. The desire for coffee is a powerful igniter of most things.

I woke to shouting loons the first night. It was so silent, so calm and those loons SO loud. I told myself it couldn’t be loons. I have never seen loons in Montana. I lie there and listened in the dark dark darkness. Indeed, the next morning we saw those big black and white birds sailing around the lake like a dream. A group of biologists arrived to catch and tag the birds in this space, one of the only natural loon habitats in all of Montana. We got to watch, sitting in the shrubs like bears, as they set nets, decoys and played audio. Those loons thought the decoy was loony and stayed far away from the net.

We walked the perimeter of the lake and I asked the girls what they like about camping. Margot said, We get to explore in the woods. And there are always surprises. Like, I had no idea I’d LOVE this lake so much! Ruby said, And butterflies everywhere! I really love butterflies.

The first night was brilliantly blue and hot. I walked in the water from the beach and dove in, losing my breath to its chill. I treaded water looking at the shore where my daughters stood, motionless, their their long, tan legs steady. From my vantage — my eyeballs at their feet — I admired their height, their united stance, their big kidness. My girls, I thought as I peered over the glassy liquid.

They were weighing options, staring into my eyes. Mama? It’s cold but feels so good? Margot asked.

Ruby said she felt afraid and Margot began chanting

There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of Sister
There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of Sister
There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of Sister

Margot began walking while chanting, holding Ruby’s hand. Ruby joined in the chanting and together they walked into a sisterly baptism.

They both went under and popped up wide-eyed with the thankful, inevitable surprise of mountain lake water. They swam toward me, full of trust and love and thrill. And then we laughed and did it again and again until the sun set. Bottom three photos by Margot, Ruby, Margot:

The next day we borrowed our kind camp neighbors’ canoe.

We ate burritos and s’mores, swam and swam, played Go Fish and read The Tale of Despereaux in the tent, by the fire, lakeside. We decided to stay one more day.

On the last morning, we made our pilgrimage to the lone outhouse. In my motherly assisting of my kids, my sunglasses fell from my head into the depths below. I said a really foul swear that sounds like Brother Ducker and we all stared at the shades in the shit. I thought about it for a minute. I had no other sunglasses with me. These were really nice, expensive sunglasses. They weren’t submerged but sitting on top. I’m going for it, I said.

We scavenged the woods and found a long stick with twigs. With a steady hand, I held my breath, lowered the stick, snagged the shades and raised them from the depths. It was so gross and took me many washes and a day to put them back on. But I did put them back on. And my kids took every opportunity to share the story with every person they saw for the rest of the week.

We packed up and drove north to aunts, uncles and cousins waiting for us on a different lake. I missed my husband and parents while there. There’s a hollow spot when I visit a place over and over and over with someone and then visit without them. I really noticed their absence.

This little place we stay on Lake Mary Ronan is frozen in time. It’s a cluster of 100 year-old log cabins that shine light on how little humans need to be happy and cozy. My mom has been going since she was a child and marvels at the sameness. Everyone does. It’s slow and breezy. It’s about togetherness, swimming, fishing, cheersing, eating, game playing. Always has been.

^ photo compilation by my Aunt Lorie ^

Our friends came up this year, adding to the richness of that shared space. Colder than usual, we spent more time by the fire pit, less time in the water.

Margot caught a salmon. She made up cheers with my cousin’s daughter, just like my cousin and I used to do right there on the same front porch of the same cabin. She swam in the lake without a life jacket. Mama! Check out my crawl stroke!

Time – including bedtime – is obsolete. Ruby slept in until 10am one morning, two hours later than ever before in her nearly-five years on this planet. She ran fast down the trail fast this year, able to keep up with Charlotte and Margot, able to remember last year with the fuzzy clarity of those first glorious childhood memories.

Sunscreen, marshmallows, soot, dirt, bee stings, dock splinters, smoke. Every day, every year the water in that lake laps onto the shore of time, age, family, history, memory. Every year, it is there for us again.

trip details:

* Rainy Lake Campground
* Biodegradable Camp Soap
* Camp Tuffit on Lake Mary Ronan
* Our Ready-to-Go Camp Bin
* Megan Young Music (she is a wonderful pianist, playing piano in photo up there)
* GEO hats

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