Saturday, January 5, 2013



As I told Andy, I had something of a "Christmas faith crisis" this year, and what I mean by that is (in great contrast to my childhood holidayphilia) I got especially fed up with the usual Christmas complaints: the consumerism, the manufactured traditions, the shallowness and self-destructiveness of all the various trappings. And I'm trying to figure that all out, trying to find my balance. Not just in Christmas, but in lots of things. Valentine's Day, wedding rings, celebratory feasting, birthday presents, and so on.

Don't get me wrong; I still love traditions and holidays. On one hand, I feel like we don't have much of a holiday personality for our family yet. We've been swept up in the more established traditions of extended family every year since we got married. But we've got a few things to call our own. Probably my favorite thing is our homeless care packages. With help and donations from Andy's family (who visited us for Christmas), we put together twenty packages filled with various small personal hygiene and food items, then topped each one with a bow. On Christmas morning, before we opened our own gifts, we all hopped in a couple of cars and drove east. It didn't take much time to find twenty people who didn't have any other Christmas presents or anything much at all. Most were very sweet and grateful, one was suspicious of us, one was asleep, a few didn't say anything, one refused our gift with a silent, smiling gesture. Corryn was too shy to help pass them out this year, but Elliot got really excited about it. We may not have helped a whole lot (though I researched and tried to give gifts that would be genuinely useful), but at the very least we made some people's otherwise dreary Christmas day a little more cheery.

Our other attempted tradition this past year was a New Year's memory jar. The idea is that throughout the year, you write down your favorite moments or events and put them in a jar, then on New Year's Eve you open it up and read them all together. I love the theory of it. But, predictably, I was the only one who contributed to the jar, and I only lasted a couple of months. They were definitely fun to read on New Year's Eve, but in all honesty we will only get worse about keeping up with it. So in thinking about it, I realized that we already do document our whole year in our natural routine: we're always taking photographs and videos of our kids and our special moments. So rather than writing our memories down, I've made an iPhoto album called 2013, and every time I upload photos I put a few highlights in there. Then on New Year's, we can go through all the photographs together. The same effect as a written memory jar but much more realistically sustainable. I'm going to take the pretty jar I bought and use it to hold change and spare cash that will go toward next Christmas' homeless care packages.

Our only other annual tradition I can think of is our family photobooth portrait.

So there you have it, the only three traditions we have that I really care about.


I'm not much of a formal goal setter, though I always have lots of projects and things going on. But a month or so ago, I started a few little efforts that have evolved into something of a New Year's Resolution: my goal is to make somebody's day as often as I can. It started by realizing that I held back compliments and simple friendly gestures (things as trivial as liking something on Facebook or posting a comment on a blog). And I did it because I'm a snob. I don't want people thinking I like them too much. Really, as ridiculous as that sounds, it's true. But... I DO like everybody. And it lifts me a little bit every time I get a thoughtful email or a smile or a lot of Likes. Why on earth would I hold those back from anybody else? Stupid stupid. So I've been working on giving compliments liberally, giving sincere and personal birthday messages on Facebook, liking everything I actually like, and so on. And as much as I used to be a Facebook snob (having refused to join until after I graduated from college), I think it's a wonderful tool. A wonderful way to still be neighborly with those you may not live close to any more. A perfect way to express a little love. I will stop resisting this increasingly efficient vehicle for niceness.

I remember lots and lots of times when people have made my day. Getting two snail-mail letters from LJ. Getting an encoded postcard and an email about a butter dish from Holly. Receiving the coolest little kid activity book (and accompanying mix CD) from Rachel. A mix from Chris. Two Star Wars books in the mail from Tamsen. Sam calling me friend. Poprocks and valentines from cousin Lindsey. A Hawaiian postcard from this couple from church that we don't know very well. Jen babysitting twice in a row on very short notice. A surprise visit and a music video from Stelth. An app recommendation from Tianna. A movie invitation from Cliff. An invitation to be creative from Taryn. Lacey's inclusion of me in her own neighborly endeavors. An email from my old English teacher. And countless emails, phone calls, sleep-in-mornings, sweet hugs, snotty slobbery kisses, free babysittings, cleaning help, cooking help, and love and support from my family, Andy's family, Andy himself, and our two tiny roommates.

That's my goal. To make somebody's day whenever I can, in small ways or whatever ways fit the circumstances.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

One more thing...

From time to time some photos pop up in my newsfeed of old friends going to these Wine-and-Paint sorts of places, and I have to say, the paintings are always just terrible. Is it the wine, or is it the people?

See? Snob.

Friday, November 16, 2012

She will always be the only thing that comes between me and the awful sting of living in a world that's so dang mean

Just some things, for remembering:

-The week surrounding Halloween and the week after were a hellish fortnight of germs, vomit, oozing ear infections, diarrhea, fevers, coughs, snot, dentist and doctor appointments, and then a repeat of vomiting and diarrhea. Not a soul in the house made it through unscathed.

-The end of those two weeks was heavenly. We got a visit from an old college friend/roommate and her sister (and they are also sisters with another old college friend/roommate, one I had the pleasure of spending a week with in May. I have now met five of the eight of them, and I like them all very much). Have I mentioned how much I like getting visitors? I know I have. I don't like traveling much these days — not with the kids, anyway, combined with my lack of coping skills in the face of any degree of stress — but boy do I love getting visitors.

-A few days after they left, we spent a night at the Montage Laguna Beach for a National Association of Broadcasters conference that Andy was asked to participate in. I donned my white fluffy robe and just stood on the heated-bathroom floor and probably judged every person in that hotel. I'm a snob in so many ways.

-I've learned that I don't really think the world is a bad place, not at all, and I don't think it's getting worse. In fact, I think it's getting better for the most part, though there are always strengths that become weaknesses and weaknesses that become strengths in sine waves of ups and downs with a general trend toward maturity, just like people in general. Or so I think sometimes.

- I feel like my life lessons have been coming in key words lately: Balance. Moderation. Context. Perspective. History. Empathy. And all of these things are meaningless little bits without the experiences to back them up, and I can't give those to anyone else. It's such an inefficient system. I want the experiences of everyone else who has ever lived, I want us all to share them. I keep thinking lately that aging isn't just a function of time, but also a function of the experiences we have that get us to this new, older place. Elliot doesn't learn to be brave about new foods just because he's older chronologically, though that plays a role; he also learns to be brave about new foods because he's been a coward, and he's been exposed to new foods, and he's learned they're not deadly. In this way, he is older. And the amazing thing is that everyone goes through these little milestones at about the same point in their life. Two-year-olds are picky eaters: three-year-olds get braver. What this means to me I do not know.

- I don't know if it's the kids or if it's me, but my momskillz have declined lately. I lost some of my capacity for patience when I became a mom, and I feel like I've been losing it incrementally since. It seems that the kids have synced up their neediness cycles lately. Or maybe it's just Elliot. I've been having a hard time with him lately. Fortunately and unfortunately, parenting challenges change a little bit every day. I have to come up with infinite solutions to a constantly shifting problem, but I can't, and then I get grumpy.

- I have to think over some things for a while. I'll get back to you.

Just in case anyone was wondering what the title to this post is about, it's this crazy and miraculous girl. It's also a line from an Eel's song called "My Beloved Monster," which is exactly what she is.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

If she’s determined to have a nervous break down, the least we can do is see that she doesn’t have it in peace.

Things, in order:

We went to Colorado. It was wonderful through and through from having thirty-some-odd people sleeping in one house (now that's not fair — a few were sleeping in tents outside) to the multiples of desserts after every breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

We moved. We had help from our ward of origin, help from our destination ward, and help from one hard-working and patient mother-in-law to keep kids occupied and to stay up until midnight scrubbing walls and retouching paint with me. Our new place, in a nutshell: it's old, but it's clean, and our kind landlady works hard to keep it that way. She puts fly traps by the dumpsters and hoses down the sidewalks. The cabinets and doors have been coated with white paint so many times that they've lost all their sharp edges and they're sticky to open and close. The walls are a light beige, and the carpet is a darker beige, and the kitchen floor is a linoleum-impersonating-hardwood. It's a separate kitchen, large, with one pocket door to connect it to the rest of the apartment and one door to go out the back stairs. It had no fridge and no dishwasher when we signed the papers, but mercifully we got discounted rent for the first two months and bought those items with what we imagine as the profit. It's a portable dishwasher, on casters, and I've never been so grateful to have one. The faucet sticks right out of the wall rather than up from the sink, and the countertops are chipped blue and beige tile. Our kitchen window looks directly into the kitchen window across the way, where a cat likes to sit. Our dining room table has found a home just outside the kitchen door and in the very large shoe-box–proportioned front room, where all of our couches and bookshelves and desks and shoe baskets and DVD towers line every inch of the wall.

We have a balcony. It's supposed to be shared, but really it's ours, and we (with permission) populated it with two comfortable chairs from Target and a little table we found by the dumpster. We have two large bedrooms with large closets and fan/light fixtures that are operated by remote, and if you're not careful you can turn off the light in your own room with the remote while simultaneously turning on the  light in the room where your children are asleep: your downstairs neighbor can do the same. A small, room-like hallway connects all these rooms, but it seals off with another pocket door, and there we keep a tall bookshelf and a towel tower and a surprisingly large closet with built-in shelves. One bathroom with teal-and-dusty pink countertop tiles, a space heater from the fifties mounted into the wall, a tiny toilet, a window that overlooks the plant nursery behind our building, and a shower with tiles that are a patchwork of mismatched colors and patterns. The glass sliding door has a swan frosted on it.

We have, for the first time in our married lives, a garage. It's incredibly spidery and dusty, but it's ours. It has plywood storage lockers for keeping my sewing stuff and my oil painting supplies and old textbooks. We didn't have a garage door remote at first and had to step out to manually punch in the code every time we pulled in or out, but we have one now. I've never seen such an active alley life, back there with all those garages in a row. The garages are workshops, mancaves, personal gyms, restaurant warehouses (literally), and party venues. There's always — always — an assortment of familiar-looking-but-I'm-still-not-sure-their-names neighbors out there, garages open, bench presses in operation. There is often a car parked in front of our garage door, but we just have to ask the closest person whose car it is, and they can invariably fix the situation within minutes.

We went to Disneyland in honor of Andy's having earned his Master's Degree. It was crazy fun, and the kids did far better than I thought they would (Corryn napped in the stroller, and Elliot didn't sleep at all). They lasted until about 9:30 and then slept all the way home.

I got a new illustration gig with the same publisher as last time. It was supposed to only last until mid-August, but it hasn't even really started yet besides discussions and sketches, which is pretty much how it always seems to work.

We went to the zoo. Our Groupon-purchased zoo membership will expire next month, so we're trying to use it up while we can.

We went to North Carolina for a family reunion on Andy's side. Again, it was about thirty people crammed into one house, but this was a gigantic beach mansion and only one couple got squeezed outside onto an air mattress on the deck. I spent a few days before the reunion proper with the kids at Andy's aunt's house (the aunt is only a few years older than us) with her three young children, and my kids had a blast there. As did I, making new friends with Andy's aunt and uncle. Andy spent those three days in Washington DC with his immediate family doing some site-seeing and some research for schooly stuff, but that sounded terribly un-kid-friendly to me, so instead Julie and I went to kids' museums and such. At the beach house on the Outer Banks, we were in easy walking distance of the Wright Brothers Memorial, which we visited. After having my mind properly blown by the insane and almost arrogant persistence of the Wrights, I stepped on a cactus and found twelve dollars on the ground. I also tried boogy boarding and skim boarding for the first time — no good at either. The kids were so scared of the ocean water that they freaked out even if I got near the water, afraid it would sweep me away. They played exclusively in the sand and in the private swimming pool. Andy's parents rented biked and graciously rented a kid trailer as well as letting us borrow the bikes. But the thing is, I don't ride bikes. At least I didn't until Andy dragged me out one sweaty, tear-filled, humiliating, scary, and triumphant afternoon. But I did it. And on our very last night in NC, Julie let me borrow her smooth-riding "granny bike" and walked by my side as I rode down a trail in a lovely forest just by their house, over a wooden bridge and by a river. I finally see the appeal of bike-riding, I really do, but it's still not going to be a big hobby as we have no money, no time, and no space. I also ran on the beach our first morning at the beach house, another first for me. It was sunrise and it was so serene and lovely. But I ran barefoot, and my feet were so torn up by the sand and my calves so dang sore that I couldn't run for the rest of the trip. There were lots of late-night talks on the beach with various members of the family about things big and small. There were lots of games and laughing and staying up too late and eating things that made me feel terrible. It was a true blast.

We came home. The children did amazingly well on the six-ish hour plane ride with one stop and no meals. Except for the really smelly diaper that made all of our neighboring passengers cover their noses with their shirts.

I read books. In the past three or four weeks, I have read Orson Scott Card's Treason (so fun), Joanna Brooks' The Book of Mormon Girl (so sweet and sympathetic and emotional), and almost the entirety of J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey (which I've read many times before and will read many times again, because it my well be my favorite book of all time and I don't even know what adjectives would describe it).

We have been visited by old college friends. Eliza came to visit the day after we moved, when the house was in chaos, and Chris (now a Los Angeles resident) came for dinner and a night of cinema-and-media-Masters-MST3King-a-terrible-movie, when the house was still in chaos. Those visits, plus the trip to Holly's wedding in May, has pretty much filled my college-friend-reunion Bingo board, though there are still a few big blanks.

Food. I have learned to love hummus. I've been eating salad nearly every day (when I'm on top of things, I like to have a salad spinner full of greens and various tupperwares full of chopped celery, cucumber, tomatoes, grilled chicken, and maybe some other things in the fridge, ready to make a salad instantly. Apples and walnuts thrown in, too. I still eat a lot of carrots and smoothies and apples-with-peanut butter. But I'm a new convert to crunchy peanut butter, which I've never liked before. I often make a Thai coconut-chicken soup that LJ made for me in May, though it's never as good as hers. I now consider myself "low-gluten", or I tell people I just don't eat a lot of wheat, but I'm fine if I have a little here and there, and I don't worry about it in sauces and things. I eat oat granola on vanilla greek yogurt. I tried a peach and actually liked it. I bought popsicles molds because it just gets so dang hot in our apartment that sometimes the only thing that can cool you down is frozen fruit inside your body.

The kids are growing and growing and losing some of the babyishness in their faces and instantly outgrowing their shoes and saying all sorts of surprising things. It's fun to compare them, not in any sort of competitive way, but in a way that highlights the big and little variations that please me so much that sometimes I think God just made so many people just for the fun of it. Take their palates for example. Corryn has always been one for savory things, for meat and cheese and most vegetables, but not really for breads and too many fruits or sweets. Elliot is her exact opposite. One night several weeks ago, we went to a small cafe and got the kids a plate of french toast, bacon, and eggs to share. We split the food evenly and served it to the kids. Corryn ate all of her eggs and bacon; Elliot, his french toast. They refused to eat the remainders on their plates, so we switched their plates and they finished off each other's. Corryn is not nearly the language master that Elliot was (who knew all of his letters by 17 months and Corryn, who will be two next month, still only knows "O" with any consistency), but she seems to have caught on to much more abstract things much faster. I asked her, "Who is in our family?" once without ever discussing it with her directly before, and she answered, "Mommy! Daddy! Ellia! Minnie!" She calls herself Minnie, which is her attempt to say Rinny, which is one of her pet names. I don't think Elliot got that concept for a long time, and couldn't even correctly answer "What's your name?" for a while. She caught onto counting later but faster, and now she counts things that are the same without me realizing what she's doing until she triumphantly says, "Fwee!", which is the sum of all of her calculations. She also has a big imagination, and the complexity of her pretend play rivals that of her brother, though her attention span for it does not. She also is the most naturally thoughtful child I've ever met, and she will share anything with anyone. She will give Daddy her last bites of ice cream happily and then say in her super-sweet, quiet voice, "Fammwy! Fammwy!" as if she already knows what a family is really about.

Thanks to Andy's dedicated tutelage, Elliot is now reading astoundingly well. We use the Bob books that we found at Costco, and I think they're great. Elliot can sound out just about any one-syllable word that you throw at him and several two-syllable words as well. He's not perfect at it, of course, but he's not even three and a half yet. He's also a really, really impressive little artist. Sometimes he'll draw random shapes until they look like something, then get excited that he accidentally drew something cool and draw a dozen more. This includes fingers (single fingers, with fingernails), teeth, and letters. He also draws all sorts of monsters, skeletons, robots, aliens, spiders, astronauts, snowmen, and general people, sometimes mad and sometimes happy and sometimes scary and sometimes with hearing aids. He drew his first portrait of our family recently, and he also just started taking toys, setting them down beside his paper, and drawing pictures of them. Still-life! Reference drawing! With really surprising detail, like numbers of fingers and little surface elements. Drawing can easily occupy him for an hour at a time, and I don't want to throw any of them away.

This morning, we rode the metro down to Long Beach for the free Long Beach Funk Fest. The kids were intrigued but not thrilled with the loud music, but they loved getting to bang on drums and make a funky little necklace and make instant friends with all sorts of fun and friendly people.

Andy is about to start his PhD at USC. We've been in LA for two years, and that feels both long and short, and we'll be here for over twice that again.

And things keep changing, "slowly, then all at once."

Thursday, May 31, 2012

My favorite things

- I never wrote about Valentine's Day. It was wonderful. We saw Islands play at a mellow little show, and it was perfect. A night with the nicest man on earth listening to the nicest voice on earth. Hallways is still my favorite song these days. We've seen Islands play how many times now? And Nick Thorburn in his other musical incarnations how many times on top of that?

- I took a crazy adventure to Arizona for Holly's wedding. It was the perfect weekend. Tamsen flew here, and the two of us drove with the kids all those hours down the 10. There were two incidents of vomit, lots of old college friends, lots of good meals, lots of laying in the grass and talking, lots of making a mess of Holly's apartment, lots of swimming/playing/visiting, lots of not sleeping, lots of wedding, and one beautiful reception with one beautiful bride who seemed to not be able to stop smiling.

- Tamsen stayed for a few days after we drove back, and this happened to coincide with my birthday and a visit from Stelth, who was playing with the Lumineers on Conan O'Brien, the taping of which Tamsen, Andy, and I attended. A marvelous birthday. We also visited the Griffith Observatory, the SM Pier, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a farmer's market, and Souplantation before Tamsen forced me to let her go home. I really, really, really like visiting and getting visited.

- For my birthday, I got some shirts for the kids, a rad little photo display set, a salad spinner (which has been in use constantly since), a flower, a Troy and Abed shirt, 5th Element on bluray, and a three-hole punch. Or it could be that the three-hole punch just arrived in the same Amazon order as the salad spinner. Also drawings from my kids and several nice cards.

- I finished up all my jobs and got a new gig doing publicity for my friend's new novel, Evertaster. I'm a slow reader, but I am reading it, and I'm genuinely loving it. It's fun to research blogs for promotion, and I'm learning a lot.

- The kids are maturing. They're both really into drawing right now. Elliot is drawing clear and discernible creatures, most of them being robots, zombies, skeletons, astronauts, aliens, monsters, or monsters with hearing aids. Or kittens. My favorite of his recent drawings is Ki-Adi-Mundi. Yes, the drawing has a huge head, yes, Elliot titled the drawing himself with no prompting, and yes, Elliot is his father's son. Corryn tends to grab a pen whenever she finds one (which is forbidden, as she's drawn on every piece of furniture we have), run to the scrap paper bin, and then fill the ENTIRE PAGE with the most intricate little scribble clusters...for half an hour at a time. She's started to draw dots over eyes and noses and mouths whenever there's an image already on the paper, just like Elliot did, but she's doing it much earlier than he did. If you ask her what she's drawn, she'll either say Elmo or Daddy. Elliot is also writing letters now when he sees them nearby to imitate. Isn't it amazing how humans are like scanner/printers, but imperfect ones that get better with age and practice?

- The kids' other favorite activity these days is pretending to be kitty cats, which to Elliot means being very snuggly while meowing incessantly, and to Corryn it means collapsing onto her belly and screaming, "MOW!"

- Andy got a little professional-development fellowship for the summer, so he'll be taking one class at USC once a week and getting paid for it. Then he starts the PhD program at USC in August.

- So we have to move. We put in our intent to vacate papers already. Here's to hoping we find a new place. Where, when, and for the price/size we want. No, we've done our homework and we have a plan, I'm not actually very worried about finding a good place.

- We're going to Colorado next week.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

There's outer space all over the place

In ten days, we have to make our decision for PhD programs. I thought we were about 90% sure we were going to stay here, but I have no idea anymore. We have to wait to see if School A will offer more money, if School B will get him off the wait list and offer a sweet deal, and if the housing at School C will offer us the rent-reducing job. Waiting for everybody to not be sick anymore so we can get out of the house again. Waiting waiting waiting. I told Andy a week ago that one of my goals as a parent is to have children who can wait gracefully. Oh, The Places You'll Go!, you know, the Dr. Seuss graduation book, talks about waiting as a bad, stagnant place to be. I get what he's saying, but I don't think that's true in all cases. I'm often surprised to realize that, as a parent, I couldn't slow down my children's development unless I really tried. I just have to feed them and give it time, and all this amazing development happens on its own, while I'm waiting.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


I have accepted that I am not asleep. I think we can all agree on that.

I have accepted - for the first time - that no, not everybody pulls out a blank canvas that's been intimidating them for months and starts to slap color on until they get to the point where they can't stop until it's finished. Not everyone gets that feeling, I guess, but I've always had a hard time understanding that everybody else is not exactly like me. I'm allowing myself to feel unique, and I usually fight that feeling, and then I try harder to be unique.

I have accepted that I usually paint in a progressing state of undress. This is logical, as I get paint on my clothes one hundred percent of the time, and the second-best way to get paint out of clothes is to take them off immediately and run them under water for a long time. The first best way is just to not wear the clothes in the first place. This is why I must paint alone. Near a sink.

I have accepted not only that I do but that I always will draw like my father. This is not a bad thing - he is a skilled (and financially thriving) draftsman/painter/sculptor. But I have wished so many times that I could just paint with somebody else's hands. Just to be fresh to my own eyes. I don't know how it's genetic, but it is, and it's in the whole Hopkins bloodline and it's in my pencil lines and my handwriting and my brush strokes and it's in the painting of lily pads that my uncle did before I was born that is so stale to my eyes because it's in my genes. Mama, I know you're reading this, please don't be offended. I have a love-hate relationship with that painting. The one in the guest room.

This is an experience I have frequently, the strong desire to be someone else. Just to be completely and perfectly new, just once, just to burst the bubble. I'm learning to accept being a me. I'm always astonished to see the signs of people who are wholly comfortable with being who they are, and they're not thinking that they're doing it wrong and everybody else with the answer key is pitying them. I say "the signs of" because I don't really know, because how could I, I am a me and not a them. I have accepted that I spend a lot of time (too much) thinking about myself, and most of the time my epiphanies only last until I get bored of them.

I have accepted that I like peppermint but not spearmint.

Also, I think I have an oral fixation, but only in the afternoons. This would explain my snacking problem.